These past few weeks I was reading (and re-reading) testimonies written by people who are joining the church where I pastor. I always find such personal accounts of God's work in people's lives to be fascinating and encouraging. Simply tracing the threads of God's providential and redemptive work in the lives of others encourages me in my own life! In fact, they made me decide I would send out something different today -- my own testimony which I condensed into the form of a short poem and read at my ordination service in 1987. And please keep in mind I do not claim any gifting as a poet, it was simply a shorter way of sharing what would have been much longer if I shared it in a different format.
You will quickly discern I grew up in a rural place (actually, next to my grandfather's farm and sizable expanses of open land). And although I do use metaphors in the poem, I want you to know the references to the dream of a cross "on a distant hill" and an encounter with an "angel" actually happened.
I have always loved Francis Thompson's extraordinary poem about God's pursuit of him, called, "The Hound of Heaven" (in my opinion, a must read). In so many ways his experience mimicked my own as I hit my teens and early 20's: God's abundant kindnesses were excused away by my sin-hardened heart. God's repeated mercies were met by my firmly entrenched resistance. And God's unrelenting pursuit of me was countered by me running in the opposite direction. Until one day, that is, when -- tired and burdened by the guilt of all my sin -- His grace conquered my resistance, and the sweet persistence of His loving overtures led to the divine conquest of my soul. You also may have seen (or do see) that same process taking place in your own soul, hopefully with the same eventuality of conquest and surrender finishing off the story. The following stanzas take you from my first memories of childhood to the time I entered the pastorate 31 years ago. The poem is simply entitled, "Jesus."
You sought me when my days were young;
Your love reached out through everyone.
Such gifts you gave, so rare and sweet;
Ten thousand clues laid at my feet,
Yet still our paths did never meet.
You called to me from peaceful woods,
From morning dews which glistening stood;
In fields where flow'rs Your radiance shown,
And wildlife's whispers in clear tones,
Called out to make your glory known.
You called to me so many ways -
In dreams at night of ancient days,
Where on a distant hill there stood,
A silhouetted cross of wood.
And in the hush mine eyes did see,
A figure hanging there... for me
I ran not knowing what to do,
But still your angels did pursue.
I shunned your love, I knew Your creed -
It was for sinners You did bleed!
My plans were set, I had no need,
My eyes were set on lust and greed.
I turned my back on all You'd shown,
Excused away the love I'd known.
To me You'd been so kind and real,
But yet my heart refused to yield.
So many kindnesses You'd shown,
And yet my heart had turned to stone.
I sought life's thrills to fill the void,
There was no pleasure not employed.
For self I lived and breathed and slept,
Until in broken shame I wept,
To see the vigil You had kept.
"Such love," I said, "it cannot be,
That condescends to one like me!
If anything I'd earned Your rage;
Eternal wrath the sinner's wage."
But You in loving mercy shown,
With greater love than ere' I'd known.
You touched and turned me Lord to You,
With love unfathomable but true.
You caused my hardened heart to see,
No greater joy could ere' there be,
Than loving You who first loved me.
Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff