Calvin Miller is a professor in preaching and pastoral ministry at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He previously served as pastor of Westside Baptist Church, Omaha, Nebraska. Miller is also a poet, artist, novelist, and evangelist. He is the author of more than 40 books and numerous articles on religion and preaching. His most recent book is titled, Jesus Loves Me: Celebrating the Profound Truths of a Simple Hymn (Warner Books).
I don't think I have sung "Jesus Loves Me" for a long time. This morning I'm reading the lyrics and my eyes are tearing up.
I have had that kind of response all over. People say, "I picked up the book and I thought about how I first learned it or when the hymn came to me in a crisis moment." So I think it's a common experience. You can't feel the impact of the Son of God and his love without being emotionally moved.
What is it that drew you back to this familiar hymn?
A part of my personal journey is reflected in one of the chapter titles that says, "Jesus Loves Me: I Can Make It." I guess I've never been through any kind of crisis [except] when I've felt that the presence of Christ got me through it. And I really am big on the notion of walking with Christ through the crises of our lives. So I'm sure that had a part to play. But I was thinking one day how really basic and fundamental to our lives "Jesus Loves Me" is. We learn it first. And its little truths talk back to us for the rest of our lives. It just runs all through the hymn.
The second phrase in the song is "this I know." In an age of uncertainty, here's a hymn that says we can know certain things.
Yeah, and I think that it's a heart cry of this age and probably every age. But just to know that there's something out here that you can nail down and say, this is true, and this is the truth that will stand by me. I know this, and this won't change. I've always believed when Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" that what he's essentially saying is that he is personal truth.
A lot of factual truth appears to change, you know. It used to be 500 years ago the world was flat, and now it's round. And it's amazing that truths we think we depend on in one generation get redefined. But when Jesus said, "I'm the truth," he said this isn't going to be redefined. This will be true. It's true for every generation. I love the notion that I can count on Jesus Christ. He's going to be there in the morning; he was there last night. And I love the notion that he's steadfast.
The next phrase is, "for the Bible tells me so." And you point out that-that western civilization increasingly ignores the Bible.
You know, I like that metaphor of the exit sign. I mean, there's a lot more complicated ways to say exit, but the one that really sells is exit. It's kind of like Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten—here I am, 65 years old, writing about a song I learned when I was five. And all of its truth still right in place.
"Little ones to him belong" is the next line of the song. You're 65 and recapturing the spirit of a little one.
Jesus essentially said, you don't become Christians by being more adult, you become Christians by being childlike. I think he meant that kids are really good at trust—and really good at faith. They're really good at believing. They're just really good at basic, simple things that a more mature adult has to wrangle about and cast all his aspersions on, you know? Kids do it so easy.
Tolstoy was born again at a communion service and he said the problem with [his understanding of Christ as a boy] was that his aunt (who he calls Metinka) would start telling him the story of Jesus. She would get down to the time of Jesus dying and he'd say, "Metinka, tell me more. Tell me why he died. Tell me why those men hurt Jesus." And then she would say, "It's time to go to bed." And he said that he had the most unfulfilled feeling. She was doing a very adult thing. He, as a child, wanted to know about the Cross.
One of the things that I loved in the book is you talk about the ego and letting go of "me."
I don't think we ever find out who we are until we let go of it. I think this is the purpose of Christ saying that you sacrifice everything to gain the whole world and the path to that is self-denial. I say in the book that God and ego are both three-letter words and they both mandate our attention. And whichever one we give it to ultimately tells the world what kind of person we were.
When you talk about God creating a better "me," you talk about becoming more like the identity of Jesus.
I think that it's a beautiful day when we come to look in God's mirror and staring out at us is our alter ego and he's always Jesus. I think this is what all the great saints have longed for, this union with Christ, and the desire to be one with him. And that's where ego is finally lost and self is gobbled up in something noble.
It's amazing to me to read about the great heroes of the faith. All of them wanted one thing. They wanted to be one with Christ. They wanted to merge their identities until they and Jesus were inseparable. And we don't have enough pictures of that now. We have pictures of how to succeed, vision, how to grow a church or set up a program. What we don't have are credible pictures of people like Mother Teresa who really do hunger to be united with Christ.
In this song you have the wonderful promise that he will stay close beside you all the way.
The real benefit of being a Christian, for me, is that he is in the moment right here with me. I don't have to go through this alone. That's the great thing about Jesus.
My father-in-law right now, even as we speak, is in the hospital and could die. He's 85. He's lived a good life in Christ and it's okay [that he's dying]. He's going to heaven. But, man, I like knowing that Jesus Christ is going to be with him on both sides. You know, Jesus will walk him right up to the gate and then he'll die and Jesus will meet him right inside the gate.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Visit DickStaub.com for audio and video of his radio program (4-7 p.m. PST), media reviews, and news on "where belief meets real life." The full text of this interview will be for sale on the website soon.
An excerpt of Jesus Loves Me is available at the Warner Books site.
Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:
Kathleen Norris | The author of The Virgin of Bennington talks about being found by God in the midst of sex, drugs, and poetry. (July 16, 2002)
Thomas Moore | "To really live a secular life and enjoy it is part of being a religious person," says the author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion (July 9, 2002)
Os Guinness | Whether we're seeking or have already been found, we're all on a journey. (July 2, 2002)
Oliver Sacks | The physician author of Awakenings talks about his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, order in the universe, and testing God. (June 25, 2002)
David Myers | People say they know money can't buy happiness, says the Hope College psychology professor. But they don't truly believe it. (June 18, 2002)
Richard Lewis | The comedian, actor, and author talks about his humor, addiction, and spiritual journey. (June 11, 2002)
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