This post is part of the Patheos Book Club on Encountering Jesus: Modern-Day Stories of His Supernatural Presence.
There are no words to describe God’s radical love for his sons and daughters. Perhaps that’s why author James Stuart Bell, like Jesus, has chosen story as his primary medium to convey truth. Reading Encountering Jesus was a powerful reminder that the Gospel is at its core a Person, and his name is Jesus. He is magnificent, he is compassionate, and he is love. The book’s subtitle “Modern-Day Stories of His Supernatural Presence and Power” accurately sums up its contents: 39 vignettes of Jesus giving us a window into heaven on earth.
There is little fanfare or supplementary commentary around these stories, but rather, they simply present the person of Jesus in the power of story – take it or leave it. As I read story after story, I found myself drawn to the illustration of Jesus’ divine yet so very human intimacy. Numerous stories speak of his eyes which penetrate your soul in breathtakingly compassionate ways. Some of the stories speak of his voice of many waters as irrefutably calming yet infusing with an unshakable confidence. From the delivery room to childhood bedroom encounters all the way to hospice care, the breadth of stories speak to a Jesus who is altogether relatable and intimately invested in the nuances of our lives. And within these stories, a Jesus who is seeking to give us a glimpse of his transcendent beauty and radiant nature emerges triumphant over the legalism and posturing that can at times damage the church.
As I read the stories, I found myself itching to amend the book with my own experiences. That inclination is what I suspect to be the author’s intent: to lead us to reflect on our own testimony as well as to press in for more encounters. I thought I would share just one such personal testimony: A few weeks ago, I found myself at a local fair with a friend of mine named David. He nonchalantly noted that his pinky was itching from a bug bite. Feeling invigorated by a recent spiritual renewal in my life, I proceeded to pray boldly for God to take away every bit of itchiness. To both of our surprises, David experienced the power of God coursing through his wrist into his pinky, taking away the itchiness and rendering the bug bite as an inert bump on his finger. The experience solidified in me the reassuring notion that what matters to us, matters to God, because we matter to God.
Within the metanarrative of Bell’s stories, I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to return to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). The book helped me conceptualize a sound theo-logy (literal translation: intimate knowledge of God) that does not neglect the tenants of scripture but rather affirms them through the vivid medium of human experience. The collective narrative depicts in Jesus a lover of men, women, boys, and girls who will go to any length to see his people redeemed and restored as sons and daughters of God.
The message I’ll take away from Bell’s book is simply this: live for the encounter—not just the supernatural and unexplainable but also the mundane and predictable. Find him in your every waking moment. Find him in your nights of sleepless meditation. Find him in the loved ones you surround yourself with. Find him in the enemies who cause you distress. Live for the encounter, and just be sure to pause, rest, and give thanks along the way.