Sunday, May 28, 2017

The One and Only Thing that Will Free You from the Dark Places of Your Life

When I saw the picture of the eight year old girl, that’s when it hit me.   What sort of darkness drives a guy to strap on a bomb and blow up a little girl and twenty others?  What happens inside someone to bring them to such an awful place? 

As I thought about it, I remembered Dr. Robert Reza.   Almost thirty years later, I still can’t forget it.  Dr. Reza served as an elder at a church about a half hour from my own in New York.   His wife sang in the choir there.  Each Sunday, they went to church literally morning and night.   They seemed to adore each other.  But in reality, Reza was having an affair with the church’s organist.  And two weeks before Christmas, he traveled home from a conference in Washington.  And he shot and strangled his wife, Marilyn, while she slept.  He then went back to the conference to cover his tracks.  But that cover story unraveled pretty quickly.  And when it did, it shocked everyone.  After all, this man wasn’t a monster.  He was a caring father to his two daughters.   He taught students at the medical school.   He served as a leader in his church.  How does someone like that do something so awful?   What sort of darkness leads a person to where he can stand above his wife of 22 years while she sleeps and murder her?

According to the Bible it’s the same sort of darkness that that lives in each person on the planet.  That darkness may not lead you to kill someone, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sabotage your life in all sorts of other ways.   This is the darkness that wrecks families, that messes up friendships, that leads you to actions you regret.  This is the darkness that can overwhelm you with guilt or shame.  This is the darkness that discourages you, and leads you to doubt God’s love.   This is the darkness that can make your life so much less than what God intended it to be.   But how do you conquer this darkness?  How do you become free of whatever dark places live in you?   In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say. 

In every human being, there lives a darkness.   This darkness limits you.  It takes away the life you yearn to live.   It has the power to lead you down some truly awful paths.   But how do you break free of it?   How do you defeat the darkness?  Here God tells you.   God says.  If you want to defeat the darkness, you have to know where to begin.   You have to know that only beginning with God gets you there.    The path to darkness’ demise starts with God and nowhere else.    

Now what do I mean by beginning with God?  Before we get there, let’s get clear what the Bible tells you about darkness.    Growing up, I got the idea that getting away from the darkness had to do with stopping certain outward behaviors.  But darkness goes far deeper than a lie here or an ugly word there.   It encompasses everything you are.   It darkens your mind, confusing you about what you really need or what will truly fulfill you.   It darkens your soul with resentments and self-pity, with despair and guilt.    It darkens your heart with out of bounds desires that lead you to deep dissatisfaction, a life driven by appetites that never deliver what they promise.   And this darkness limits you.  It limits the entire world. 

Think about it.   Inside, don’t you have a vision for the ideal you, who you really yearn to be?  And you have a vision of what you yearn your family to be, your neighborhood, heck the whole world.  But why do the visions always fall short?   Your darkness, the darkness of this world gets in the way.  
But too often, when human beings try to defeat that darkness, they start at the wrong place.  They start with themselves.   They think.   If I can develop a new self-improvement plan, then I’ll get to a better place.   If I rally together with others, then we can make things better.   And, yes those things can, in some cases, push back the darkness a bit.    You become a little better.   The world becomes a little better.  But is that the best anyone can hope for?   Really?

In the Bible, God gives a very different message.  First, God says, this darkness that you see in you, in the world, you have no idea how bad it is.   It’s so bad that nothing you can do can ever defeat it. But then God says.  I haven’t come to just defeat this darkness.  I have come to eliminate it from existence, to end it forever.

But for that to happen, it can’t begin with you.  It has to begin with God.  That’s why John starts exactly there.   John writes that I have written this letter to give you complete joy, to give you communion with God.   But then where does John go next?   Does he focus on you, how you can get this joy, this communion.  No, he focuses on God.  This is the message. He says. God is light.   John makes it clear.  This joy has to begin with God.  Only God can destroy the darkness.    Now, why can’t it begin with you?

First, it’s because you don’t really know who you are, much less what you need.   Think about it. Have you ever heard a recording of your voice, and thought?  I don’t sound like that at all.  But here’s the truth, you don’t actually know what you sound like.   Only others know that.   Heck, you don’t even know what you look like.  That’s why you can look at a picture, and be a bit surprised.    I look like that, really?    And forget your voice or your looks, you don’t even know your own desires.   How many times have you regretted a dish you ordered at a restaurant, thinking I didn’t really want that?  Sheesh, if you don’t know your own desires there, what makes think you know them anywhere?        

More than that, when you begin with you, even this you, you don’t really know, you feed the darkness.  You keep it strong.   What keeps human beings in the dark is how we spend so much of our lives absorbed with ourselves, our appetites, our resentments, our joys, our hardships.   The last thing human beings need is to focus more on themselves.   They do that all the time already.   How many times have you worried about what others thought of you in a particular situation?   Do you realize the assumption?   Not only are you focused on you, you assume everyone else is too.  Sheesh, how self-absorbed is that?

And what does that self-focus do for you?   It doesn’t free you from the darkness.  It traps you in it. The psycho-analyst, Theodore Reik, put it well.    The secret of human happiness is not in self-seeking.  It’s in self-forgetting.

And how do you forget self?   You begin with God.   Why God?   First, if anyone knows you, it’s God.   After all, God created you.   Heck, God created everything.    More than that, the more you focus on God, the freer you become from the focus on yourself.    Why does the Bible command you to love God and to love others?   God doesn’t command this, just because it’s a nice thing to do.  God commands it because loving God and loving others frees you from yourself, from being trapped in your own darkness.

This past week, I was heading home, and I was caught up in the darkness, feeling self-pity, discouragement, all sorts of stuff.   Now I tried to get myself out of it.   But do you know what did it?   Oatmeal did it.    On the way home that night, I needed to buy some oats so that my wife could make oatmeal for our son’s breakfast the next morning.   And just going into the store, doing a little errand for my family shook me out of the darkness.  I went in all grumpy, but I came out grateful, grateful that I could meet this little need in my son’s life.       

In the same way, when I read scripture and talk with God, it shifts my perspective on everything.   It frees me from myself.    Why does it do that?   Because reading scripture reminds me that God isn’t a nice idea I have.   Reading scripture gives me a God I can actually know. 

You see.  It’s not just enough to begin with God.   You need to begin with the God you meet here in the Bible.   Before John says, God is, John says this.    “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you.”    You see.   John wasn’t sitting around pondering who God is, and then wrote a letter about it.  No, John is saying.   We thought we knew who God is.  But then we actually met God, and this is the message God gave us.

If you want to know God, then you’ve gotta begin here with the message God gave you.   If you don’t, then whatever God you believe in, it won’t really be God.   It’ll usually be a version of you.   St. Augustine put it well.  If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.    That sort of self-created God keeps you trapped in the very last place you need to be, focused on yourself.

More than that, when you walk away from the God you meet here, you’ll never really have a God you can know.   After all, how can you know someone, unless they talk with you, communicate with you.   And here, this is what God does.    And until, you listen to what God tells you here, you’ll never really know God. 

Look, if you come to me, and say.  “Kennedy, I know that you told me that you were born in Virginia, and raised mainly in Tennessee.”   But you know, “I like to think of you as being born in Colorado, and raised on a ranch in Montana.”   Well, that’s a nice story, but it’s not me.  You don’t know me. 

And what is the message that the Bible gives you about God?  Let’s look at what John tells you here.   John says that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  Basically, John is telling you that God is holy, a being so perfect and complete that no darkness can be found in him at all.  And in those words, God is giving you the best news about the holiness of God that you could ever hear.
You see, when Jesus came, people had a certain idea of what it meant for God to be holy.   It went something like this.  God is clean, and in God no dirt, no uncleanness can ever be found.  But if God is holy like that, do you see what it means?   It means God can’t be around anything dirty.   That would besmirch God.  That would compromise God’s holiness.   That means you have a God, who can never really be with you.   After all, you aren’t so clean.  So, God has to keep away from you.

And that image of holiness will never free you from self-absorption, it will sink you deeper into it.   You will spend your whole life trying to get clean for God.    You’ll come up with rules to get there, ways of judging others to reinforce your own sense of cleanness.   And none of it will work.  It will only make you miserable, and others around you miserable too.    You will be caught in the bondage of a religion, rather than the freedom of the gospel.  

But when Jesus came, God gave a different picture of what holiness means.  It’s the picture John gives you here.  God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  And in that image, God’s holiness doesn’t separate from the darkness.  God’s holiness invades it.   God’s holiness destroys it.  God’s light shines into every dark place until no darkness can be found.    And that is what Jesus did.    In Jesus, God’s light shone into the darkness.  God’s light’s even came into the awful darkness of the cross, as we tortured and killed God, and had the gall to do it in God’s name.  Yet, not even that darkness overcame the light.   Instead, God transformed that cross.    What had become a shadow of judgement now became the source of salvation.   What had once delivered death now became the deliverer of life.     This is what God did for you.  This is how far the light of God’s love and holiness went to bring you home.  And the more and more you realize what God has done for you, the more that light will free you.  It will free you from yourself.  It will free you from the darkness that holds you.   And it will bring you into the light, the light of God where there is no darkness at all.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Two Experiences That Tell You that You Really Know God

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.                  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Is The One Relationship That Rewires Your Mind Like No Other?

Have you ever experienced this?  You’re driving along, and you accidently cut into someone’s lane.  Or maybe you’re simply too slow for someone’s liking.  Whatever the case.  You upset someone on the road.  And boy, do they let you know it!   They make a gesture not suitable for worship.  They yell at you, give you a loud blast of the horn.  And the whole encounter, it upsets you.  It rattles you.   And it takes you a while to get over it.  

But how can one person, a complete stranger, affect you so powerfully, so quickly?  It’s because relationships have power.   Their energy, either positive or negative, impacts you.  Why?   Because that relational energy that a person puts out there doesn’t stay out there, it goes in here.  It goes into you.   You internalize it.   That’s how a random stranger’s anger on the road can affect you like that.   And if a random encounter can do that, think about the deeper relationships that are part of your everyday life.

According to the neurobiologist Daniel Siegel, your relationships, either positive or negative, actually change your physical brain.  Your relationships literally have the power to rewire your neurons.   Isn’t that why we honor the people that we do today; our mothers? 

Yes your mother gave birth to you, but she did far more than that.  She shaped who you are.  The messages she gave you, hopefully good ones, have shaped who you are.   Even if your mother has passed away, she remains with you.  Why?  How she shaped you, remains.   The preacher Frederick Beuchner put it this way.  “You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”..a world that those relationships created in you. 

But as crucial as your mother’s relationship is, it pales in comparison to the relationship we talk about today.    No relationship will rewire your mind like this on.   No relationship will transform your life like it.   What is this relationship?   How can you have it?  In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Here, God points you to the one relationship compared to which, all other relationships pale.  And since you are sitting in a gathering focused on God, you’ve likely guessed what that relationship is.  But what makes a relationship with God so transforming?   Here God tells you.  That relationship changes who you are.  And as it changes who you are, it expands what you see.  It enables you to even hear the thoughts of God.             

In the last two times I’ve been with you, I have focused on these same four sentences at the beginning of this letter.  And today, we get at the one word to which this whole paragraph points.
John tells how he and his fellow apostles actually saw Jesus how they heard him, how they touched him.    John makes this point because lots of folks in his day had lost touch with the simple reality that God had actually entered into human existence in Jesus.    But why did God do this?   Was God simply bored, wanted a little earthly diversion?

No, John tells you that God did this because God wanted a relationship.  God wanted a relationship with you.     And there you got it.   You’ve got the whole purpose of Christianity in a nutshell.   God wants an intimate, an incredibly intimate relationship with you.  And God went to death and beyond to make that relationship possible.  

So if you don’t have that relationship with God, you’ve missed the whole point.  Every Christian belief, every Christian practice has one sole purpose, to bring you intimately in relationship with God.  And if you don’t have that, then you don’t have Christianity period.

It’s not about simply believing in Jesus, knowing the stories, memorizing the scriptures.  Sure, that’s all good stuff to do.  But if you believe in Jesus, but don’t know Jesus, intimately, well then, you’re not much better off than a demon.   I mean.  A demon believes in Jesus.   But a demon sure doesn’t have any intimacy with him. 

Now this might seem obvious, but to many folks who attend church their whole lives, it isn’t.  
For years, I’ve been asking a set of four questions developed by the Quakers to get to know people.   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, I was talking to a guy, who grew up in a fundamentalist independent Baptist church in the Midwest.    His family showed up at church every time the door opened, and he went to the church’s school all the way through high school.    Later, after he left that church, he started going to a Presbyterian church.  He sang in the choir there.  He worked in Vacation Bible Schools.    And then he even served a year as a Presbyterian mission worker in Chicago.  There someone suggested that he should really think about seminary.   So sure enough, he enrolled, and that’s when it happened.  That’s finally where Jesus became warm to him. 

Get this. This guy went to a conservative Christian school from Kindergarten through high school.  He became an active leader in not only that Baptist church but a Presbyterian one too.  He even served a year as a missionary.    But he was in love with religion.  He was even in love with church.   But not until seminary, until seminary mind you, did he fall in love with Jesus.   And his story, it’s more typical than you think.

Because, when John talks about the relationship God wants, John makes it clear.  What God wants is something incredibly intense.   You can tell how intense by the word John uses, a word that the writers of the New Testament use a lot.  John uses the Greek word, Koinonia.   It usually gets translated as fellowship, but that term hardly does it justice. 

Literally, koinonia, means communion. It means that you share in something or someone.  For example at this table, we share in this bread and this cup, and in doing so, we share in the very presence of God.   We are communing with God, and thus we call this communion.
But what does it mean to commune with God, like John talks about?    What does it mean to share in the communion with the Father and his son, Jesus Christ?  

It means first that God isn’t just out there anymore.  God is in here.    As 2 Peter puts it, you become a partaker of the Divine nature.    Or as Paul puts it.  I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.   Do you get this?   To become a Christian means you start sharing in the very life, in the very nature of God.

Now, don’t get any big ideas.   Sharing in the very life of God, doesn’t make you God.  But it does make you kin.   You literally become a relation of God.   In fact, that’s a helpful way to think of it.

In some ways, I look like my mom.   I have for example her nose, what she calls the Westbrook nose.   In other ways, I look like my dad.     But still we are different people.    But we are different people who share many characteristics in common.  Why?  We are related.
What does it mean then to be related to God?   It means you have become far more than you could even have imagined.    And maybe the writer, C.S. Lewis, came closest to describing that more.  He wrote.
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. God is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. God meant what He said.

Now Christians are not there yet, but even now, the effect of the transformation begins to take place.    And it begins with how you see.    When I was growing up, I loved this song by the Christian singer, Amy Grant.    And even though, the writer, Gary Chapman, obviously wrote it for her, it still gets me to this day. 

The song goes something like this
I may not be every mom's dream for her little girl, 
And my face may not grace the mind of everyone in the world.
But that's all right, as long as I can have one wish I pray:
When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say, 

She's got her father's eyes, Her father's eyes; 
Eyes that find the good in things, When good is not around; 
Eyes that find the source of help, When help just can't be found; 
Eyes full of compassion, Seeing every pain; 
Knowing what you're going through and feeling it the same.
Just like my father's eyes, My father's eyes, My father's eyes, 
Just like my father's eyes.

That song still gets me.  Why?  It gives us a vision of what can happen when God’s presence starts living in you.  It changes the way you see.   You start to see as Amy Grant put it through your father’s eyes.  Your heart begins to get broken by the things that break the heart of God.

Now, your sight isn’t perfect, because you’re not perfect.   But still something happens. 

Growing up, my mom nurtured in me certain ways of seeing the world.  For example, in our household, it was always Kraft Mayonnaise, there could be no other.   And to this day, that’s where my eyes go when it comes to Mayonnaise.  Now have I strayed from the path, and used Hellman’s or even Duke’s at times, sure.  But still, my eyes always go back to Kraft.   Why?  What was once outside, my mother’s thoughts on mayonnaise have now come to live in me. 
And in the same way, you begin to see the world as Jesus sees it.   The same things bother you that bother Jesus.   The same things move you that would move Jesus.   Why?   Because Jesus is no longer out there.  He is in here.   He has come to live in you. 

And for the same reason, you start recognizing his voice.  Now our phones make it easy.  When someone calls you, the phone usually tells you who it is.  But if it didn’t, most of the time, you’d still know, wouldn’t you?   You’d recognize the voice. 

And when you start sharing in Jesus’ life, the same thing happens.  It doesn’t mean you hear some audible voice, but still when certain thoughts come into your mind, you recognize the voice.  You know, that’s Jesus.  

Now a lot of times that voice gives me insight about something I share here.   Other times, it points out a failing in my life, one I’d rather overlook.  But I know the voice.   And frankly, I’m usually carrying on a conversation with that voice throughout the day.   And for those sharing in Jesus’ life, that becomes pretty typical.  You may have set times when you talk to Jesus, when you make time to hear back, but prayer never stops there.  It grows and grows until that voice becomes just a beautiful, integral part of your life, a conversation that never ends. 

That’s why God came in Jesus to give you that, to give you the divine nature; to give you eyes to see as God sees; ears to hear God’s very thoughts.   So how do you get this?   Is there an esoteric practice that gets you there?    No.   It’s as simple as opening a door.  God doesn’t hide from you.  God pursues you.  But like any relationship, you have to be willing to open the door.    

If you go to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, you’ll see this famed painting, by the English artist, William Holman Hunt, hanging in the chapel there.   Hunt based the picture on a verse in Revelation that we’ll say together in just a few moments.   

You may not be able to see it here, but the door on which Jesus knocks is all grown over with vines.   Yet, that isn’t the most interesting detail.   If you look on the door, you won’t find a handle.   Hunt painted it that way, to make clear the tragedy of what he called “the obstinately shut mind.”   You see.  Jesus is knocking, always knocking.  That’s not the question.  The question is.  Have you opened the door?   Will you open the door?  

If you have, you already know how it has changed your life.   If you haven’t, why don’t you make this the day you do.