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Saturday, February 3, 2024

5 Decades of Faith - A week of reflections as I turn 50

Playing my Grandma's organ in Ohio, late 70s
This week I turned 50.  So for the whole week, I intentionally reflected on the lessons I've learned along the way while contemplating some of my favorite music from each decade.  I originally posted these on social media over the course of 5 days.  I've compiled those posts here on my blog so I can keep them and to share with anyone who is interested.

Late 70s, playing a toy guitar I got for Christmas
The 1970s - 
"Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce.  Jim died Sept 20, 1973--just 5 months before I was born when he was only 30.  As I turn 50, I think of the many  who died too young.  I am thankful for every year I've had.  It's been a great life so far and I want to make the most of all the time God gives me. 
Following his tragic death in a plane crash, Jim's song surged and became one of the top tunes of 1974.  It ranked ahead of other memorable songs like "The Joker" by Steve Miller Band, "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" by Steely Dan, "Radar Love" by Golden Earing, and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John.  What's one of your favorite songs from the 1970s?

5ish years old
Here's another of my favorites from the 70s - "All Right Now" by Free. 

One of the songs that helped kickoff the Jesus Music revolution that would eventually become to contemporary Christian music we have today. "Little Country Church" by Love Song was released in 1972, but I had never heard it until 2023. I have thoroughly enjoyed rediscover some of the older CCM from the 70s.

The 1980s - "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley.  This song, released in 1984, stands out from my preadolescent years when I spent a lot of time at Lake Tobesofkee where my parents sold concessions to crowds of tanning teenagers packing the beaches.  The song felt nostalgic--even before I understood nostalgia.  I sensed life passing by too fast. Today quickly becomes a memory we will cherish or regret.  Whenever I hear "The Boys of Summer", I remember listening to the radio in Mom's car driving to the Lake in the mid-80s.  Other notable songs that almost made the cut were "Africa" by Toto and "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.  What were some of your favorite songs from the 80s?

1989 - HS Freshman
Here's one I almost chose - "Africa" by Toto. It charted as the number 3 song of the 80s. I never even really knew what the song was about, just always liked it. I read this week the song was written by a man who had never been to Africa but was impressed by a romanticized view of it from a TV documentary and tried to write a song about it. It almost didn't make it onto the album.

1985 Ford Escort
We rolled around in a Renault Alliance. Don't let the commercial fool you. It wasn't a great car. But my dad did deliver new papers in it, until he smashed it into a bull who escaped a pasture and wandered across the road in the dark of night. The tip of one horn came right through the windshield and almost impaled him.  Mom drove an old Chrysler, then a Ford station wagon, until she got a Ford Escorts.  It eventually got smashed at the end of the decade. During a terrible downpour, my mom pulled off to the side of I-475 in Macon, GA to wait it out because we could hardly see.  Another car hydroplaned off the road and hit us from behind.

Kelly in the late 80s or early 90s with
a member of her favorite boy band.
My future  wife's taste in music in the late 80s and early 90s was a bit different from mine. She'll have to tell you their name. I cannot bring myself to utter it.

Another one of my favorites from the 1980s was "I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. As an immature boy not paying close attention, I interpreted the song as a romantic love song. But listen closely and you will see the Love the song writer describes is deeper than just romance. He wants to know what real love is--something spiritual. Mick Jones even talked about that when he said the lyrics came to him at 3 in the morning from what he described as a "higher power".

The 1990s - 
"Jesus Freak" by DC Talk.  The 90s were a decade of tremendous growth and change in my life.  In 1990, I was I was a self-absorbed and rebellious 10th grader learning to drive who hardly even believed in God.  By 1999, I was married, graduated from college, working 40 hours-a-week as an engineer, and accepting the call to full-time ministry as a Methodist minister.  There are so many songs that flood my memory from the 90s.  Pop was in full swing. Mariah Carey began her meteoric rise to fame.  Rap and hip hop became mainstream, with almost every artist including a line or two of rap in their songs.  Meanwhile the grungy sounds of alternative rock from hits like "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Loser", and "Black Hole Sun" were all over the airwaves.  In the middle of the decade, contemporary Christian music experienced a revolution as DC talk released their album "Jesus Freak" that took Christian culture by storm.  The title song even found it's way onto mainstream radio and MTV.  "Jesus Freak" was an anthem for many young Christians like me who wanted to break away from what we perceived as the stale, "churchy" faith of our parents' generation and engage the world in a more radical and relevant way.  Christian music changed in 1995 and got much better (IMHO).  My faith also changed radically throughout the 90s. In 1991, I started reading the Bible every day.  In 1992, I started attending church every Sunday
with my future wife.  In 1994, a crisis of faith greatly deepened my belief in God.  In 1995, I joined a young adult Sunday school class.  In 1996, I attended the Walk to Emmaus, which made my relationship with Christ more vividly personal.  I found I was proud to bear the label "Jesus Freak", a derisive term from the 60s and 70s used to disparage people intensely devoted to Jesus (remember the line from Elton John's song "Tiny Dancer" - "Jesus freaks, out in the streets, handing tickets out for God...")  Scoff at me if you want.  I proudly accept the title Jesus Freak.  Jesus gave His life for me.  He has changed my life forever for the better.  I will gladly be called names and suffer for the mission He gave all His followers to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you."  The culture of the 90s was often about living an alternative lifestyle.  EVERYONE was doing it.  LOL.  Think about that....  In the midst of it, "Jesus Freak" screamed in grungy, rappy, hardcore lyrics that ironically mimicked the "alternative" style of the non-sensical anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and said quite sensibly: Christianity is the original and only authentic alternative to the world.  I wanted to be part of that.  I am part of that.  Don't let the polite smile and clergy collar fool you.  I'm a hardcore freak.  Come join me.

Lacey was our first pet. She showed up on Kelly's door step in 1992. The owner saw Kelly holding her a few weeks later in the yard and asked for the cat back. Kelly was heart broken. She went to the owner's house and offered to buy Lacy. When she arrived, the owner had Lacey locked in a bathroom and said she didn't even want the cat. Lacey went back home with Kelly that day. She was there when Kelly and I married. She moved in with us in our first apartment in Marietta. She helped us study through college and seminary. She was there for the birth of all three of our children. She was the sweetest, most trusting cat. She lived a long happy life. We will always remember her.

Alanis Morissette was an iconic sound of the mid-90s (who BTW turns 50 in June) with songs like 
"Ironic".  "You Were Meant for Me" was released by Jewell in 1996. Jewel turns 50 in May this year.  The Dave Matthews band pumped awesome songs like "Ants Marching".  

Dec 18, 2000. Kelly's college graduation.
I was so proud of her. She finished nursing school
while also raising Gavin. I don't know why
I was staring so awkwardly. Probably just a bad photo.
Then again, I was only 26, was the father
of a 2-year-old, and had just accepted
the job as interim youth director at our church.
I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I was in
charge of 6 volunteers and 30+ youth. I
had to plan a ski trip for everyone in 1 month.
The first meeting I had with my six volunteer youth
counselors who were nearly twice my age immediately
devolved into a shouting match between
two factions vying for control of the group.
One of the counselors (unbeknownst to me at the time)
had wanted the job the church gave me.
Oh, and I was still working full-time
as the director of quality assurance in a textile mill
and had two more months to go on that job.
So, on second thought, maybe I was
just as zonked as I look in this photo.
LOL. 2000-2005 was crazy, but
God brought us through it.
The 2000s - 
"You're Beautiful" by James Blunt (who turns 50 this month).  Released in 2004, it topped charts in 11 different countries and hit #1 on Billboard on March 11th of 2006.  It was also used frequently at weddings, which may be why it sticks out to me (I mostly listened to contemporary Christian music during the 2000s).  I attended or officiated several weddings featuring the song.  A passive listen leads people to choose it for nuptials because of the smooth vocals and sentimental sounding lyrics.  Ironically, Blunts says the song is about a time he caught a glimpse of his ex-girlfriend on a subway platform in London, her arm around another man he didn't know existed.  He said, "‘You’re
Beautiful’ is not this soft romantic f***ing song. It’s about a guy who’s high as a f***ing kite on drugs in the subway, stalking someone else’s girlfriend when that guy is there in front of him, and he should be locked up or put in prison for being some kind of perv.”  Life can be like that if you don't pay attention.  So many casually pass the years without reflecting on what it's all about.  They naively misinterpret the deeper meaning based on shallow surface currents that drag them along with everyone else. Part of my purpose is to wake people up.  What do the lyrics of your life song sing?  What's it all about?  And what are some of your favorite songs from the first decade of the new millennium?

2001 Youth Summer Beach Trip
2000-2005 were a whirlwind.  I accepted the position of interim Youth Director of Lithia Springs UMC in December of 2000.  By June 2001, it became permanent and I was also appointed Associate Pastor.  I was in charge of 30+ youth plus volunteers.  It's not that I didn't have any experience.  I had 4 years of
One of the 300+ youth working at River of Life
experience with youth groups as a volunteer in 2 different churches.  I had served under two different and very capable youth directors.  But I was only 26 and had a young child at home, and was attending seminary.  Our church hosted 300+ people every summer for River of Life, a community out reach project with 10+ youth groups from around
Leading my last youth summer camp at LSUMC
the state who came to do home repairs. And I was in charge of coordinating it all.  I had lots of help (thank God), but I was the coordinator who had o make sure everything came together.  It was a blast and a blessing to our community and everyone involved and I learned so much from the experience.

In 2002, our second child was born--a daughter, Grace.  In 2003, I was appointed as a student pastor of a small church in Griffin, GA - Highland UMC. 

"Meant to Live" was released by Switchfoot in 2003.  But it didn't hit my radar until the last half of the decade.  I loved Switchfoot's grungy, crossover songs, reminiscent of DC Talk from the mid-90s.

In 2004, I earned my black belt in Tang Soo Do, and began teaching a Christian Martial Arts program called "The Method".

In 2005, I graduated seminary and was commissioned as a a probationary Elder in the United Methodist Church.  I was appointed as the full-time pastor of Mt. Zion UMC in Smarr, GA.  They welcomed me with a "pig pickin'" my first Sunday.  It was delicious!

We had our third child, Abigail, in 2007.  In 2008, I finally completed all the steps to be ordained as and elder in full connection in the UMC.  In 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel to see the Holy Land where so much of the Bible takes place.  Here's a Picture of me standing on the steps on the Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock. Inside the Dome (which non-Muslims have not been able to enter for the past few years) most people believe is the spot where the Jewish holy of holies from the Jewish Temple of Jesus' day was located.

2010 Mullis Family Vacation
The 2010s -
 "Time" released by Jessica Campbell Waterman in 2013.  I was appointed senior pastor of Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton, GA in 2010.  The decade saw the infusion of social media, smart phones, and digital music.  Streaming music gradually replaced radio airplay as a significant factor in music success in the 2010s.  In addition, I now often preferred to listen audio books and podcasts.  Furthermore, I've been blessed to meet and interact with a number of incredible artists and song writers.  Jessica performed at my church numerous times in the middle of the last decade.  She was a delightful person and extremely talented musician.  She often brought other great artists like Carolina Story and Hannah Miller with her.  

Leading worship at
a church campout 2011
Sharing about her song "Time", Jessica said: “I believe that working through the tough and interesting dynamics of relationships can actually be the thing that bonds two people together. As we go through life, we are forced to go through ups and downs and time allows us to grow more wisdom as we try to make the most of out of life and the relationships we are in, whether that be family, work, or a spouse.”

2019 with Heather Petero & friends
Others talented local artists such as Earl Bracken, Tom Brown, and Heather Petero, Artist and Instruction also frequented our church.  Our own music minister, David Crawford, is a wonderful musician and songwriter.  Changes in the music industry has diversified tastes.  With so much variety, it feels there are actually less options that everyone will recognize as an anthem for a decade.  I could've chosen familiar songs from Adelle, Ed Sheren, or Taylor Swift or any number of other popular artists.  And though I'm familiar and even like many of the popular songs released by celebrity artists in the 2010s, I hardly listen to pop stations anymore.  When I choose to listen to music, I
Gavin's high school graduation 2016

choose my favorites from the past or musicians I know or independent artists I've discovered through the internet and streaming media (like Amanda Cook).  What are some of your favorites from the 2010s?

In the 2010s, we also saw our kids growing up and becoming adults.  Gavin Graduated high school  in 2016 and college in 2020.  Grace graduated high school in 2020.  We now only have Abigail left at home.

2024 My 50th birthday party at the bowling alley
The 2020s -
If you made it this far, thank you for reading all the way through my 50th birthday reflections.  We now come to the contemporary, post-pandemic era 2020-2024. My selection today is "Firm Foundation" by Cody Carnes, released in 2022.  This song captures so much of my sentiment for the past 4 years.  It's an anthem of faith and reassurance.  Amidst the uncertainties of the past four years for our world and for me personally, the lyrics guide me to reflect what Christ brought me through for five decades; how He helped me overcome tremendous obstacles with supernatural power; how He blessed me richly with great friends, a wonderful wife, and an amazing family.  Christ has been my firm foundation and He's never failed me yet and He won't fail me now or in the decades to come.  So I will continue to honor and glorify Him, assured I am a precious child of God.  With gratitude, I will invite others to be part of His family all the ways I can.  Thank you again for you friendship and well wishes this week.  You are each special to me in your own unique way.  What are some of your favorite songs of the 2020s?  A couple more great songs from this decade I've enjoyed (and sung with our church praise band) are "Holy Water" by We the Kingdom (2020) "
God is in this Story" by Katy Nichole (2023).

Oh, and I started a YouTube ministry in 2021 - Grow and Be Fruitful with Pastor Chris.  Check it out!

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