August 15, 2008

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Fourteen years ago Susie and I were living in a little bunkhouse on a ranch east of Bartlesville. In addition to being a husband to Susie and a father to one-year-old Lincoln, I was publishing a little (money-losing) newspaper, trying simultaneously to be a writer, editor, publisher, accountant, sales rep, and janitor—the usual hassles of a small businessman.

One evening an African-American minister from Tulsa came to speak at a small church in Nowata, a nearby town, and Susie and I decided to attend. This minister was a kindly soul, slight of frame, early 50-ish I'd say. I don't recall the specifics of his sermon, but I do remember what followed.

"Who has chest pains?" he asked. "Stand up."

I was somewhat taken aback, yet I stood because, indeed, for about a week I had been having some pain on the right side of my chest, the cause of which was unclear to me. Since the pain wasn't severe, I had pretty much dismissed it as a nagging inconvenience that would go away soon enough. It certainly hadn't been on my mind during the service. But as I stood there, this man, his face and his voice exuding genuine compassion, said to me something altogether unexpected: "Don't worry. You'll be able to get all your work done."

Until that moment, it hadn't even remotely occurred to me that stress and worry could be the source of the pain, but in an instant it became clear. Then began to wash over me an overwhelming realization that God really does love me and is intensely concerned with my well-being. Even amid my disobedience ("Be anxious for nothing"), here was Almighty God—who was, after all, quite busy running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments—taking the time and the initiative to attend to one redeemed sinner in Nowata, Oklahoma.

As I sat down I tried to maintain my composure, but this realization was simply too much. I spent the next several minutes in that rickety little church weeping, as God's love—how to put this?—poured over me like warm oil. And he wouldn't let up. He just kept telling me how much he loved me and how he didn't want me to worry.

Some time later I read of a 19th century minister who described a similar experience, saying "it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love." Precisely. It wasn't very dignified, I realize, for one of the frozen chosen to be sitting there weeping in church. But what can I say? It happened. What's more, as the Presbyterian (!) theologian J. Rodman Williams had written four years earlier, experiences like this are "being variously attested in the twentieth century."

Look, it didn't take an experience like this to persuade me of Christ's love. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Furthermore, this I know because he graciously speaks to me every Sunday morning and then serves me bread and wine.

Lest my cessasionist friends worry, rest assured that I know better than to make too much of one isolated experience. But I also know better than to make too little of it. It's no small thing when the exalted Christ pours out his Spirit like that. I am grateful that the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth. And I'm grateful that an active, seeking, compassionate Christ loves us and is exquisitely concerned with our lives.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.