When I first saw this, I wasn’t married, so I only kind of understood it. But now that I am married, boy, I see how true it is. It’s a sentence by the poet, Kathleen Norris. Norris wrote.
…..the mystery of faith – it’s like a marriage, in that only the two parties involved really know what’s going on - ……
Isn’t that true? Have you ever seen a couple, let’s call them Bob and Sue, and everything seems to be going great. They look happy. Their kids look happy. And a few months later, you’re talking to a friend. They ask. “Did you hear Bob and Sue got divorced?” And you sit there shocked. In a marriage, nobody but those two people really know what’s going on.
The mystery of faith works that way too. You never really know what’s going on. Somebody seems to have a deep and close relationship with God, and then well, they don’t. Maybe a tragedy occurs, and he walks away from any connection. Or maybe you see an old friend, who seemed so deeply connected to God, but now she calls herself an atheist. And you wonder. What happened?
More crucially, how do you stop that that from happening to you? How do you know God so that even when things get dark around you or within you, God’s presence still shines? How do you know God in a way that grows and grows rather than becomes less and less? In these words, God points the way. Let’s hear what God has to say.
How do you know God more and more? How do you not lose touch? Here, God tells you. Knowing me, God says, means you live in the light rather than in darkness. And how do you know you’re living in that light? God will do two things. God will warm you up, and God will wake you up. But experiencing the warmth and waking that God yearns to provide doesn’t just happen. It happens when you ask, and it happens when you listen.
When John gives this image of knowing God by walking in the light, he isn’t just giving you a pretty picture. John is actually helping you understand what God actually does. God does exactly what light does. God warms you up, and God wakes you up. And if at some point, you haven’t experienced those things, than you really haven’t experienced God.
Last week, I shared these four questions that the Christian sect, the Quakers came up with to help people get to know each other. Just to remind you, the questions go like this…
What kind of heat did you have in your house growing up?
What was the warmest place in your house, physically or emotionally?
Who was the warmest person in your life growing up?
And finally, when did Jesus become warm to you.
This week, God reminded me of just how literal that warmth that Jesus gives can be.
I was talking with someone I’ll call John. He told me this story. John had gone to church his whole life, but not until middle school did it become real. The day that it happened, he had gone to worship and heard the preacher say how God loves you even at your worst, even when your life is at its ugliest. That night as John entered his house, he saw the ugliness and chaos in his own family. He remembers simply saying these words. “Jesus, can you love this?” Then he went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. And in that bathroom it happened. He felt a warmth envelop him, like a presence holding him in his arms. And a light poured into that room so bright, he feared opening his eyes lest he go blind. And there in those moments, John discovered. Yes, Jesus can love this, and when Jesus does, it changes everything.
Now, if anyone is thinking; “Sheesh, I never saw any bright light in the bathroom. Do I really know Jesus?” Just remember. When Jesus becomes warm to you, it will be unique to where you are, and to who you are. You see. At that point, John needed Jesus to appear that powerfully to him. So Jesus met him there at his point of need. Where you are when Jesus meets you may not require something that dramatic.
And on top of that, that sort of drama may not work for you, not because of where you are, but because of who you are. I remember once talking to a funeral director about how different folks grieve. He said that with some funerals, people throw themselves on top of the casket. They cry and wail. Yet, with other funerals, you get none of that. Folks will shed a few tears, but you may not even see that. But then the director said. “Don’t get me wrong. I can tell that all these folks are going through real, even terrible grief. They just have different ways of showing it, of experiencing it.”
I’ve talked to a man, who when he sings certain hymns in worship, finds himself deeply moved. He sees no blinding light, but have no doubt. He is experiencing Jesus becoming warm to him.
But however it happens, it has to happen. Knowing God means just that, knowing God, not as a fact, but as a friend, feeling his warmth within you.
But God won’t just warm you up, God will wake you up. After John had this encounter in the bathroom, he made that his regular meeting place with God. As part of that time, he began to keep a journal. He’d often write in it, not just in that bathroom, but whenever the spirit moved. He even carried it to school. But he was terrified that his friends might find it, might discover he was a Jesus freak. So he only wrote his first name on the cover. He knew that a lot of folks in his school shared the name, John, so if anyone found it, he could deny that it was his.
But then one night, in his bathroom time, he asked God simply this. “Can I have more of you?”
And that night, he had the strangest dream. He found himself at what appeared to be the gates of heaven. And he went up to a person who seemed to be checking folks in, and gave the person his name. But when she checked, she told him. “I’m sorry. I can’t find you.” Shocked, John said. “I have to be here.” And the person said, “Let me go back and check the archives.” She came back, holding his notebook in her hand. Puzzled, she asked. “Is this yours?” He said, “Yes, yes it is!” And she said, “Oh, that’s the problem. It only has your first name on it. We had no way of knowing it was you.”
Now God’s wake-up call doesn’t need to be as dramatic as a dream from heaven. God can wake you up even in the gruesome words of a tow truck driver.
This past week, I had an accident, and just in case, anyone is keeping count, this is my second accident in six months. Needless to say, that’s not a good thing. But God wanted to make sure I got the message. So first, my wife, who was in the area, came by to check on me, with our son. Patrick, as a kid who regularly crashes his toys cars, wanted to see what a real crash looked like. But as they left, he realized that I was staying behind. And for some reason, likely the need for a nap, that really bothered him. His lower lip began to quiver. The tears started to come. I assured him, I’d see him soon, and off they went. Then the tow truck driver arrived, a man with well, an unusual sense of humor. When I complimented him, saying, “It’s clear you’ve done this before.” He simply said, “Actually, it’s my first day on the job. But if I act like I know what I’m doing it usually works” It soon became clear, he had been making a joke. He had been towing cars for 25 years. He then proceeded to talk about all these idiots on the road, talking or reading or texting on their phones, how reckless it all was. And while he assured me he wasn’t talking about me, let’s be clear, he was. But then I asked the fateful question. “Wow, in 25 years, you must have seen some things.” A word of advice, don’t ever ask a tow truck driver that question. I learned more gory details about fatal crashes in Broward, than I ever wanted to know. But as he talked, all I could see was the quivering lip of my child. All I could think is how my carelessness could have robbed my son of a father.
When you know God, God doesn’t just warm you up, God will wake you up. Jesus will point out the things you don’t want to see, but that you desperately need to. And the more you let God warm you, and wake you, the greater your knowledge of God becomes, the deeper your relationship goes.
But if you want the warmth and waking, you’ve usually gotta ask. Jesus isn’t rude. He will not barge in where he’s not invited. But if you open the door, he will come.
But opening the door only begins the relationship. Only listening makes it grow. Yet sadly, listening is often the last thing people do.
I was talking to a young woman recently, who while not yet a Christian, got this better than many Christians do. She shared how folks simply don’t stop to listen. She shared how for years, when she struggled with a question, she would go to the beach and simply sit and wait. She would not leave until she had an answer. And I said to her, “Did you know the answer, because you recognized the voice?” And she said, “Yes, exactly.” This woman may not say she knows Jesus yet, but in those moments on the beach, she came to recognize his voice.
By the way, Christians have a word for this sort of thing. They call it natural revelation, how God speak to us through the world around us, on a beach or in a tow truck. But the great Christian theologian, John Calvin, said, natural revelation only goes so far. It’s like looking at God without spectacles. You can see God, yes, but he’s pretty blurry. But when you look at scripture, you put on the spectacles. What is blurred suddenly becomes clear.
But putting on those spectacles requires the same listening the woman did at the beach. How do you listen to the Bible like that? Lots of ways exist, but I’ll share one that the preacher, Tim Keller uses, and that I have begun using myself. To listen to the Bible, Keller asks himself these five questions:
1. How can I praise or thank God on the basis of this text?
2. What here convicts me of something wrong in my life?
3. If this is true, what wrong behavior or harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this?
4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?
5. Why are you telling me this today, God?
You see, the reality is when darkness enters your life, when you fall away from God, it’s because you’ve forgotten something you once knew. And asking these questions can remind you of it. How does this work? Let’s take the passage that is our statement of belief today.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were created through Him, and without Him nothing was created that was created. In Him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it
Here, you have so much to praise, the God who is life, whose life is your light, a light darkness cannot overcome. And what might it convict you of? Maybe, do you lose faith in the power of that light to shine in your darkness? When I forget how God’s light shines, it usually leads to fear or self-pity, and the list of wrong behaviors, harmful emotions or false attitudes could go on. So what do I aspire to through this text? To remember that no matter how dark things become, it can never overcome God’s light. And maybe today, I need to hear this because well, between car accidents and chaos in Washington, I too easily forget it.
Do you see how this works? And maybe this questions will work for you. But what matters, is that however you do it, you take time to listen, to look for this God in these words, in other words from scripture and in this world too. And the more you do, the more God will show up, and the deeper you will know just how amazing and beautiful God is. Do you want to know God, to really know God? It begins by simply asking. Say to God, I want to know you. I want to know your warmth. I’m even willing to hear your wake up call. And when you ask, God will come. And God will do in your asking, more than you could ever have asked or imagined or dreamed. Let us pray.