Weekly Lectionary Reading

Transfiguration Sunday
February 14, 2010

Exodus 34:29-35 * Psalm 99 * 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 * Luke 9:28-43

29 When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord. 30 So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him.

31 But Moses called out to them and asked Aaron and all the leaders of the community to come over, and he talked with them. 32 Then all the people of Israel approached him, and Moses gave them all the instructions the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil. 34 But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord, he would remove the veil until he came out again. Then he would give the people whatever instructions the Lord had given him, 35 and the people of Israel would see the radiant glow of his face. So he would put the veil over his face until he returned to speak with the Lord.

This Sunday we complete the season of Epiphany — this season that speaks to the mission of Jesus and of the mission of the church.  We celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus this Sunday.  A similar transfiguration happened in the Old Testament after Moses met with the Lord on Mt. Sinai.  I see to things in this passage.  One because Moses had spent so much time with the Lord, his countenance was changed.  That’s how it should be with us.  When we spend time with the Lord, there should be evidence of our time spent.  We are doing some intentional things this year at our church as we enter the next season of the church year, the season of Lent.  (More about that next week.)  The time season of Lent is a season of preparation for Resurrection Sunday.  It is our desire to see lives changed and transformed, because all of us have encountered the Lord.  I love spending time with the Lord.  This should come as no surprise, that I really enjoying singing and playing my praise to Him.

A second thing that I see, is that to those on the outside looking in, we may appear strange.  Also, our likeness (the glow and transformation) may be difficult for them.  They may even be afraid to approach us — like the people of Moses’ day.  Moses had a word from the Lord and he gave it to the people.  He had spent time with the Lord — he had been changed — he had been transformed.  As we finish up this season of Epiphany, I encourage you to spend time with the Lord — let Him transform you into a new person.  Blessings….

Beyond the Mountaintop

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Think with me this morning about the mountaintop experience.  We can think about this in the physical sense for those who like to hike and be out in nature.  You know the feeling of completing the task — of getting to the summit – the satisfaction of reaching a goal.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could stay there forever?  But if you’ve climbed the mountain, at some point, you must come down.  We can say the same thing about spiritual mountaintops.  It seems hard to believe that it’s been three weeks since Pam and I returned from FLAME.  Even though Table Rock Wesleyan Camp sat at the bottom of beautiful Table Rock Mountain, we had an opportunity to spend some time on the mountaintop.  One of the most anti-climatic times of FLAME is on Friday – especially Friday afternoon or if you stay till Saturday morning – Friday evening.  You know that time of being with old friends and new friends is quickly coming to an end and soon you will be off the mountaintop.  The same feeling a hiker gets when reaching the summit.

Some of our disciple friends – Peter, James, and John had a similar experience with Jesus.  It’s found in Mark 9:2-9.

2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.

5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.

7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Peter, James, and John have been central characters of several of our messages over the past several weeks.  We will close out a chapter in the church year today.  For the last several weeks we have been looking at the mission and vision of Jesus and how that relates to the church.  It’s interesting to see that this chapter closes out with the account of Jesus and his three closest disciples on a mountaintop experience.  Here on the mountain, Jesus appearance is transformed.  Not only that, but Moses and Elijah show up and begin talking to Jesus.  Peter, James, and John are observing all of this and it becomes a beautiful worship experience for them.  At some point, Peter always to say something when there was nothing else to say, chimes in and says, “Jesus it is great for us to be here.  Let’s stay right here and keep on worshiping you.”  He even wanted to set up shrines – an area of permanent worship – right there on the mountain.  Some say that Peter was suggesting that they set up mini-tabernacles – others say it is more reminiscent of the Feast of Booths – a Jewish thanksgiving feast.  Either way, instead of going off the mountain, Peter and the other wanted to stay right there.

I don’t know about you, but I can really identify with Peter.  When I’m in a place where God is present, I don’t want to leave.  It was like that at FLAME this last time around.  God showed up in a very real way.  His presence touched that campground and it was hard to leave. We knew that we had to go back and do what God had called us to do in our respective ministries.

Last week, I spoke about the importance of worship in the mission of Jesus and of the church.  It can be very easy for us as Christians to simply go from one mountaintop experience to another.  This might simply be going from one worship experience on a Sunday to another worship experience on the next.  Several years ago, I was part of an email worship forum.  Part of what concerned me was that for many of the musicians and worship leaders on that forum, was that they felt that they had to duplicate what happened the week before each and every week.  They were in the dangerous place of simply going from spiritual high to spiritual high – that worship was nothing more than their spiritual fix – week after week after week.  Our Sunday morning worship experience should not simply be our spiritual “fix” that keeps us going until the next week.  Mountaintops are wonderful places to visit because we can’t live there.  There is work to be done in the valleys.  There are people to be reached in the valleys.

We could suggest that Sundays are the mountaintop experiences and the week between each Sunday is the valley.  We can’t go from Sunday to Sunday staying on the mountain – however nice that may seem, because there are people to reach in the valleys.

Another thing that I notice about this scripture is that it notes that Jesus appearance was transformed.  One of the things that happen when we worship, is that we are transformed.  When we come to worship, we should expect to be transformed – we should expect to be changed.  Worship has a way of doing that.  The disciples were changed that day – they were changed so much that they didn’t want to leave.  That’s why God had to speak to them.

God spoke to the disciples on that day on the mountain saying, “This is my son, listen to Him.”  Those are great words even for us.  We need to listen to Jesus.  The end of Matthew’s gospel ends with these words, “18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus told us to go and make disciples.  Jesus told us to go and preach the gospel.  There are times we can preach the gospel on the mountaintops, but many times the gospel has to be preached in the valleys – in the day to day life.

The apostle Paul has these words for us from his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth.  Those are found in the 4th chapter, starting with verse 3.  I want to close with this.  I want these words to serve as our challenge this morning.  I want these words to serve as our encouragement this morning.

3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Today, let me encourage you to preach the gospel everyday – it seems at time that it can be a struggle.  Remember that there are people in the valleys that need to hear it.  They are blinded to the truth of the gospel.  Remember the Incarnation?  It is the gospel – that Jesus came to earth to dwell among us and live with us as a human – that his blood was shed for our sins – that his body was broken for us – that he died on the cross to take our place – that he was buried and on the third day he rose again to set us free from the power of sin, hell and the grave – that he ascended to heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in him and that he is coming back again his people.  Let’s go do it and move beyond the mountaintop.

Following God’s Call

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It seems like this week has been a week of reflection. As most of you know, I have been blogging for almost three years. What is a blog, you ask? A blog or weblog is a website that allows a person to share thoughts, pictures, videos, or other things. Some use it as a business tool. While others use it for personal thoughts and there are blogs everywhere in-between. My writings range from personal thoughts to devotional thoughts to updates about the ministry. This week of reflection started on Sunday night as I posted my thoughts about the day – which ranged from what happened at church, to the cold weekend, to the Eagles losing to the Cardinals. On Monday morning, I post a video from a song that has been speaking to me lately. The song I posted this week was Nichole Nordeman’s “Legacy.” The lyrics speak to what life really comes down to at the end.

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy.

This week was a huge week in the life of our country. We inaugurated a new president on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we commemorated the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. There was the annual pro-life march in Washington. These events are now history. These events are now making our history. One of the things that we need to realize is that we are always making history.

During the election, Pam was very sick. When she finally felt a little better, she watched a program on the History Channel about our presidents. Throughout the course of our country’s history we have had notable presidents and presidents who after their presidency, faded into obscurity. What will be the legacy or our current president? It really remains to be seen. I encourage you to pray for him. He has a tough job – he has many critics – he will make unpopular decisions – he is not perfect – who of us is. There are already some decisions he has made that I do not support. As I pray for him and his team, I pray that the right thing will be done, not the right thing for the party or the country, but the right thing in the sight of God. Last week in Sunday School, the key verse was, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” That is my prayer for President Obama.

Here’s the point – only history will be able to tell the story or legacy if you will of this White House administration. Will it be a famous story or will it be an infamous story? Only history will tell.

Most of you know the story of Jonah. Here was a prophet of Israel. God came to Jonah and told him to go to the people of Nineveh and tell them that God was bringing His judgment on them. Jonah decided to go the opposite direction. Let’s just say that there was no love lost between Israel and Nineveh. Niveveh was a journey over land. Jonah decided to get into a boat and head for Tarshish, which is somewhere in present day Spain. It wasn’t long before God had a plan to change Jonah’s mind. God sent a terrific storm that threatened to sink the ship. The short story is that Jonah was thrown overboard and the storm calmed. Not too long after that, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. Jonah was in the belly of the big fish for three days, before crying out to the Lord to save him. When he did, God caused the big fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 3 tells us what happened next.

1 Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

3 This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. 4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

God was pleased that the people reacted as they reacted and changed what was about to happen – he decided to let them live. Jonah 3:10 tells us:

10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be please with this. God had offered Jonah a second chance at life after disobeying a command. The Ninevites were being offered the same second chance. Jonah sat outside the city awaiting the destruction and the destruction never came. He even got mad at God for being a God of compassion. The story of Jonah ends abruptly – Jonah left outside the city after getting a reprimand from God. Jonah could have had a wonderful legacy. In fact, despite the fact that Jonah originally disobeyed God, he could have still turned it around. Unfortunately, Jonah was not able to extend the grace, mercy and compassion that was given to him by God to the people of Nineveh, so he just sulked and had a pity party. This is an example of leaving a legacy that wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Can we find a better example of leaving a legacy? One place that can be found is in Mark 1:14-20:

14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

What was the legacy of Jesus? Jesus was preaching God’s Good News. What was that? It was that the time that God had promised was here – the Kingdom of God is near – repent of your sins and believe the Good News!

Jesus was obedient to the Father through the incarnation. Jesus came to give us life when we repent of our sins and we believe the Good News that Jesus came – Jesus died for our sins– Jesus rose to give us victory over our sins – Jesus ascended – and Jesus is coming back again for those who are living the life God has called us to live. It’s interesting – Jesus is the Good News. Jesus left an enduring legacy.

So what about the rest of this passage? Jesus starts calling his disciples. In the culture of the day, each teacher (Jesus was considered a Rabbi, which means teacher) had an inner group of disciples – those who lived, ate, and breathed with their teacher. Jesus is beginning to select men that he will spend the next three years investing, rebuking, and teaching. The purpose of selecting these disciples was so that Jesus’ legacy could be continued. On this particular day, Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee. He sees Simon (whom we also know as Peter) and his brother Andrew. He calls out to them to follow. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. They were earthy men. They lived off the sea. They were uneducated men – probably learning the trade from their father. Fishermen probably weren’t high on up on the social ladder of the day – and yet Jesus picks two fishermen to be his disciples and to carry on His legacy. Not only that, but just a little bit down the shore, he picks out two more fishermen – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Their nicknames were “The Sons of Thunder.” They were loud and boisterous men. They were prone to disagreement. These are the people in whom Jesus entrusted his legacy? The rest of his picks weren’t much better. If we were to look at the disciples one by one, we would see that they were ordinary people like you and me. Here’s the kicker – Jesus called them anyway. Here is where we can find a real contrast between Jonah’s story and his call and the call of the disciples. Jonah was a prophet – he was called by God to speak the word of the Lord. He had already been called and yet when God gave him a specific command he went in the opposite direction.

Then there are the disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These men were called by Jesus and at least as this scripture records it, they immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. Think about what that means. The only thing these four fishermen knew was fishing. But did you notice how Jesus called them. Jesus said come follow me and I will make you fishers of people. Jesus came down to their level and called them into ministry. Who knows the financial risks that the disciples took to follow Jesus and yet they did. Were the disciples perfect? No the Bible tells us they weren’t. It was only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that God worked in mighty ways through them. They weren’t even perfect then, but these men were willing to be used by God. They were so willing to be used by God that all but two of the twelve disciples died a martyr’s death. Spending time with Jesus had radically transformed them.

Before Jesus left this earth, he gave his disciples some very specific instructions about the legacy they were to live. These instructions come to us this morning.  18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The legacy that Jesus wants us to leave is that of making disciples. It is not our job to simply go out and make converts and then baptize them. That does not end our responsibility – our responsibility continues – we are to teach them to obey (and that involves discipline) all the commands that were given to us by Jesus. The reason we can do that is that Jesus is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were radically transformed at Pentecost. God desires to radically transform our lives as well. We can see that history speaks well of the disciples. Several of them wrote parts of the New Testament and the Good News was shared throughout the Roman Empire. They had a sense of urgency in sharing the Good News. We don’t always share that urgency. I wonder what it was. Paul gives us an idea in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:

29 But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. 30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

Let me put it this way, Paul was encouraging the Corinthians church to focus as much as they could on making disciples, because the time was short. If time was short in the 1st Century, how much shorter is it today? Each believer has been commanded to follow the Great Commission. We are called to be a light to the world that is in the midst of the darkness. We are not called to curse the darkness, but to light a candle. For those of you who are called by God, how will history write your story? Will history be kind to you? Or will history forget about you?

Our challenge today is to go make disciples – go light our world.

The American Dream

Let’s begin this morning with a series of questions. Now some of you will have to put on your serious thinking caps this morning. When you were five years old, what did you want to do when you grew up? How about when you were ten years old? How about in high school? What about college? What about after you got out of school? How about at the age of 30, 40, 50, 60, or even 70? Has your lifetime dream, what you wanted to do when you grew up changed over the years?
I know that as a five year old, my life dream was to be a train engineer. I loved trains and that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. As I got into the teen years, there were dreams of being a professional baseball player. In the late teen years, I wanted to be a famous musician; traveling all over The United States. Notice that at least to this point, I didn’t say, “To what was God calling me?” Simply, what was my dream? The first thing that we need to discover today is that there is nothing wrong with dreams.

In fact, I believe that God places “dreams” in our hearts, so that we will pursue them. In fact several years ago, I was listening to a little radio short – it was a short inspirational clip about working moms, but it could be applied to everyone. I didn’t quite agree with it then and I still don’t. The speaker said that we don’t need to enjoy the vocation to which we have been called.
I’m not in agreement with that, because I believe that God places a calling and gifting into our life and it’s our job to pursue them. Who would have thought that a anxious and nervous young man, who trembled as he took his first inbound telephone call, would now preach on a regular basis. I believe that job prepared me in part for the ministry today.

With all of that in mind and with tomorrow’s celebration of Labor Day upon us, I want us to take a look at something we call the “American Dream.” What is it? The American Dream varies by who you ask. Most people would come up with at least something that they would consider would be the ideal and that is what we are looking at. The typical ideal would be married, with two children, one or both spouses would work and each spouse would have a car and a nice house somewhere in suburbia, not in the city, yet close enough to shopping center and services. Does that describe it pretty well? So the question I have for you is, “Are you living for the American Dream, or for something else.”

You’ll remember that several weeks ago, we looked at the book of Ecclesiastes and we looked at what was important for our young people. This message is for them, but also for all of us who work to pay the bills and live in a nice house and so on and so on and so on. Solomon has much wisdom as he writes this book. He extols the virtues of pleasure.

After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

4 I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. 7 I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. 8 I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

And after all that, he said it was meaningless. So he takes a look at work and writes,

18 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. 19 And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! 20 So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.
21 Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. 22 So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? 23 Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.

He even goes on to seek value in life through political power and wealth. One value that typifies the American Dreams is that the one who dies with the most toys wins. Each one of us knows or perhaps may I suggest is someone who is pursuing the American Dream with all the gusto they have. And so I ask on which foundation are you building your life on? Are you building your life on a solid rock or are you living your live on shifting sand? Most of you know this children’s song:

The wise man built his house upon the rock.
The wise man built his house upon the rock.
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
But the house on the rock stood firm.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
The rains came down, and the floods rose up.
And the house on the sound fell down. CRASH!
So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ,
And the blessings will come down.
The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.
The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.
The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.
So build your life on the Lord.

Jesus was teaching the people in Matthew 7;

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

So again the question is, “On which foundation are you building – the solid rock of Christ or the shifting sand of this world? In reality, The American Dream is really a life built on shifting sand. There is nothing safe in building a treasure here on earth. Jesus cautions us against that. He says that where our treasures are, that’s where our heart will be.
Two weeks ago, I shared with you the song, “Dust in the Wind.” Several of you reminded me that I didn’t tell you “The Rest of the Story.” Dust in the Wind was release in 1977. Two years later, in part due to the opening band on the Kansas tour, Kerry Livgren surrendered his life to Christ. From that point on, his songs took a decidedly different turn. Instead of writing songs about searching for something, he was writing songs that said, “I have found what I am searching for.” Here was a man who was living his American Dream. The band he was in had several gold and platinum albums. Three years later while preparing to record the band’s next album, Kerry wrote a song called “Crossfire.” The lead singer said, “this song needs some more work.” Kerry agreed and rewrote the song with stronger Christian lyrics. After reading the new lyrics, the lead singer left the band saying, “I can’t sing this,” referring to Kerry’s lyrics of his new found faith. Two years later, Kerry and another member of the band who had become a Christian, decided to leave the band. Well because of contractual obligations, Kerry and Dave Hope could no easier leave the band Kansas then you can quit the military. The record company however gave them a clause that said they could continue recording if they marketed their albums in the “Christian marketplace.” And that’s what happened. Unfortunately, the Christian marketplace wasn’t quite ready for the Kerry Livgren and the band AD. After two years the band broke up because of financial constrains. Kerry’s choice to become a Christian at least appeared to shatter his American Dream. The great thing about Kerry is that he is still writing, producing, and playing music, in addition to working a farm and teaching Bible classes at his church. He was willing to leave the American Dream to follow Christ.

Jesus was teaching his disciples when He said this:

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

And so we’ve come to the invitation. What foundation are you building your life on? Are you building your life on the foundation of pleasure, work, wealth, or power? That is just shifting sand. When the waves of life come, they will be knocked over like a sand castle. Or are you building your life on the rock of Jesus Christ? Jesus is a rock. He will be there when the waves come crashing in on us. He said if we try to hang on to our life we will lose it. Unfortunately, the American Dream and the way of the cross are not very compatible. The American Dream says, go ahead and get it all for yourself. The way of the cross says, “deny yourself, take up the cross of Christ and follow him. Which foundation are you on?

State of the Church

For the past five or six years, I have come to the congregation with what I call a State of the Church address. Many years, I have shared two of these; one for our local church and a second to share what God is doing in our denomination. I had fully intended to give this back in April. Unfortunately, we had the tragedy at Virginia Tech, and God led me to preach the sermon that I preached that morning. Then, we were busy with all the special services in May and I had already planned my preaching through August, so here we are. I want to share with you where we’ve been and where I see God leading us.
As I shared with you at our Local Church Conference back in April, the past year was not without it’s difficulties, but God is good (all the time) and all the time (God is good.) God led us through the year with this verse from Romans, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, pleasing and perfect.”
God is teaching us what it means to worship him and I also believe that he is teaching us that we must be transformed into his image if we are to follow his will.
In the Bible we have two examples of the church. In one example, we have a church that is powerless – locked behind closed doors. In the other we have a church that has been transformed by the power of the Spirit.
The powerless church is represented in the scriptures in John chapter 20, verse 19. “That Sunday evening (after the resurrection) the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Here was the church meeting behind locked doors – in their holy huddle – they were afraid of what was going on outside. They were fearful of what people were saying about them. They were thinking inside the box. Their vision was clouded by the weekend’s events. Could we even say that they were comfortable with those who were there – us four and no more? They probably thought that they were living in the most evil time imaginable. It doesn’t appear that these disciples were even aware of the power of the resurrection. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:19, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe in him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” The disciples were unaware of the power that was brought on by the resurrection.
There are churches today that are paralyzed just like the church was in John 20, but there is another church referred to in the scriptures and that is in Acts 2. “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each one of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” Most of you are aware of what happened because of the Pentecost experience. The very same day that the Holy Spirit came on the believers there in Jerusalem, the church grew by three thousand people. Peter, yes the very same Peter who was cowering in a locked room after the resurrection for fear of the Jewish leaders, was now shouting the Good News from the tops of the houses. Even later in the book when facing imprisonment, he did not back down. Some of you will notice that Christ breathed on the disciples back in that locked room, filling them with the Holy Spirit. I believe that was a temporary filling, just enabling them to get out of the locked room. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit’s coming and he knew the Holy Spirit was coming in just a few days. He even tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit’s coming. The Holy Spirit that he breathed on them was a temporary measure to get them out of the locked room so that they could be ready for the real infilling in just a few days. The rest of the book of Acts if filled with the mighty actions and miracles that the disciples were able to do because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
So here we are today. Do we resemble the church locked behind closed doors? If so, why are we here? Does God want his church behind closed, locked doors? Why were the disciples in the locked room? They were afraid of what was going on outside. Are we afraid of what is going on outside? Are we afraid the culture will infect us more than we will infect it and therefore we huddle behind our doors? Are we comfortable like the disciple were? Do we have a passion to see more than just us four meeting together for worship? Are we comfortable with those who are around us, so that we don’t feel a need to go out and compel them in? Is our vision clouded?
Just a few weeks ago at our first Leadership Team Meeting, I asked them, if money were no object, what do you see Preston Wesleyan doing for God. I was well pleased with the answers. One suggested a community center. Another suggested a daycare or day school. There were also some other great suggestions. What I loved about the suggestions is that they were out of the box. Your Ministry Leadership Team was providing future vision for our church. Some would be quick to be a wet blanket. Pastor, “do you know what that costs? Do you know what that entails?” I will agree that the scriptures admonish us to always count the cost. However, what if God is leading through his Holy Spirit, and we are just not following? Are we afraid to think outside the box? Are we afraid to do things differently than we’ve done them before?
There is one area that we have pushed the envelope and that is in the area of student ministries. We have made a decision to devote Wednesday evenings completely to Mosaic Student Ministries. We will never know this side of heaven, what impact we are making. However, my observation is that we are making a difference. Over the past few weeks, I have notice a different attitude around student ministries. The past several weeks have been a joy to teach. We will be re-launching Mosaic next Wednesday night. We could really use some help. Maybe you can’t teach, but you could cook, or you could help transport students, or you could pray. You could 6:30 PM each Wednesday evening aside to pray for us and our students. What can you pray for us? Pray that we would continue to draw students, especially younger students from K to 5th grade. Pray that we would be able to share the Good News and disciple our students to grow closer to Christ. Some of you are aware, but not everyone, that we have received a generous grant from our district to purchase a new laptop, video projector, screen, and software. The primary purpose is for Mosaic, but we will use these in other areas as well.
As we prepare for communion, let me encourage you to be like the Acts 2 church – to be a Pentecostal church in the true sense of the word – a church that is completely controlled by the Holy Spirit – not by the pastor – not by the Ministry Leadership Team – not by individuals – but by the Spirit. That is the only way we will be a transformational church.
Does being a transformational church mean that we won’t face difficulties? Not at all. The church in Acts faced difficulties, but because of their faith in the risen Christ (the faith that we will sing about in a moment.) Because of their faith in the blood of Christ that was shed on the cross, they were able to face it and through the power of the Holy Spirit they were able to overcome. This morning our communion will be a celebration of the Christ to rose from the dead, of the God who sent his Holy Spirit into our lives, so that we can tell others about the transforming power of the Good News.

It’s Morphing Time

How many of you remember the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers? For those of you who don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, it was a low-budget Japanese animated classic the dubbed badly into English during the Eighties and Nineties. The storyline revolved around ordinary teenagers who in the time of crisis could “morph” into extraordinary beings. “Morph” has actually worked its way into our vocabulary and is used in computer graphics. Most of you have seen commercials where there is a face and it smoothly changes into another face. This is known as digital morphing. The way these teenagers changed into extraordinary people was by the cry, “It’s morphing time.” What is morphing? Most of you know the word metamorphosis. Most of us know the process that moves a caterpillar to a butterfly. The process is known as metamorphosis. It is a transformation. As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed.

One of the questions that is being asked of us pastors this year by The Wesleyan Church is this: “Are you living the transformed life right now?” The second is related to it. “Are you leading a transforming church? These are some great questions that we need to be asking, especially in light of last week’s message. This is part of the getting back to basics approach that James would have told us to do. Are you living the transformed life right now is not only a good question for pastors, but for each of us. It’s a question that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to look at and there are changes happening that are encouraging. Remember to be in prayer for our General Superintendents (especially considering that the General Board will be electing a new GS in September to replace Dr. Holdren). Also be in prayer for Dr. Jim Dunn. I see some encouraging signs in the Department of Spiritual Formation.

It’s a beginning that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to make. There are two important things we are going to look at in our scripture this morning. The purpose in our lives as Christians and our purpose as a church lie within II Corinthians 5:11-6:2

11It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12Are we trying to pat ourselves on the back again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart before God. 13If it seems that we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

16So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! 17What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

6:1 As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.

As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed. Look at verse 17: 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

We are not the same anymore. We are changed. “Are you living the transformed life right now? Most of you will remember Popeye, the Sailor Man. This spinach-eating, Olive Oyl loving hunk of a man says, “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” For Popeye there was no hope of transformation. Do we as Christians make this our rallying cry? I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” You mean there’s no hope of transformation? Then the scriptures must be lying to us.

You remember that I said there are two things I would like to point out. Yes, we need to live a transformed life, but how do we get there? Look at verse 18, 18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him.

We are to be Christ’s Ambassadors. We are to be representatives of the King. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to reconcile us to God. The greatest transformation in our lives should take place when we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. We use the word saved and I realize that we are saved from sin, but we are also converted, we are transformed. You don’t hear many instant transformation stories any more. But we know God is able to transform us in an instant. That is why I believe that we don’t gradually become a Christian. There is a definitive time when we received Jesus as Savior and he starts the transformation process from what we were to Christ-likeness. What are the two important things I was getting at? They are reconciliation or redemption and transformation. Are you living the transformed life right now? What are the fruits of you living the transformed life? If you’re living the transformed life, you life should look like the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. Are these fruits visible in your life? Let me tell you a story about Hank. Hank was a cranky guy. He did not smile easily, and when he did, the smile often had a cruel edge to it, coming at someone’s expense. He had a knack for discovering islands of bad news in oceans of happiness. He would always find a cloud where others saw a silver lining.

Hank rarely affirmed anyone. He operated on the assumption that if you compliment someone, it might lead to a swelled head, so he worked to make sure everyone stayed humble. His was a ministry of cranial downsizing.

His native tongue was complaint. He carried judgment and disapproval the way a prisoner carries a ball and chain. Although he went to church his whole life, he was never unshackled.

A deacon in the church asked him one day, “Hank, are you happy?”

Hank paused to reflect, then replied without smiling, “Yeah.”

“Well, tell your face,” the deacon said. But so far as anybody knows, Hank’s face never did find out about it.

Occasionally, Hank’s joylessness produced unintended joy for others.

There was a period of time, John Ortberg relates, when his primary complaints centered on the music in the church. “It’s too loud!” Hank protested-to the staff, the deacons, the ushers, and eventually the innocent visitors of the church.

We finally had to take Hank aside and explain that complaining to complete strangers was not appropriate and he would have to restrict his laments to a circle of intimate friends. And that was the end of it. So we thought.

A few weeks later, a secretary buzzed me on the intercom to say that an agent from OSHA was here to see me. “I’m here to check out a complaint, “he said. As I tried to figure out who on the staff would have called OSHA over a church problem, he began to talk about decibel levels at airports and rock concerts.

“Excuse me,” I said, “are you sure this was someone on the church staff that called?”

“No,” he explained, “If anyone calls—whether or not they work here—we are obligated to investigate.”

Suddenly the light dawned: Hank has called OSHA and said, “The music at my church is too loud.” And they sent a federal agent to check it out.

By this time the rest of the staff had gathered in my office to see the man from OSHA.

“We don’t mean to make light of this,” I told him, “but nothing like this has ever happened around here before.”

“Don’t apologize, “he said, “Do you have any idea how much ridicule I’ve faced around my office since everyone discovered I was going out to bust a church?”

Sometimes Hank’s joylessness ended in comedy, but more often it produced sadness. His children did not know him. His son had a wonderful story about how he met his wife at a dance, but he never told his father because Hank did not approve of dancing.

Hank could not effectively love his wife or his children or people outside his family. Whatever capacity he once might have had for joy or wonder or gratitude atrophied. He critiqued and judged and complained, and his soul got a little smaller each year.

I tell you that story from John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” because John goes on to say. Hank was not changing. He was once a cranky young guy and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one was bothered by the condition. In the words of James, Brothers, this ought not be. As believers we have expectations. We expect that a man like Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expect that he would attend services, read the Bible, support the church financially, pray regularly, and avoid certain sins. But we don’t expect that he will progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank’s place.

As we prepare communion, I want to ask the question again, “Are you living the transformed life right now?” Transformation is expected. Someone once asked John Wesley, “How often should you serve communion?” Wesley replied, “As often as you can.” I know the arguments say we can make it a meaningless ritual, but we are supposed to pray and read the Bible continually. Does that make those processes a meaningless ritual? By no means. For Wesley, Holy Communion was the means of grace through which we are remembered to the real presence of Jesus. The reality of Jesus’ divine, grace giving presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, must not be minimized. While Wesley did not accept the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation, he nevertheless affirmed that Jesus was REALLY present to the believer when the believer ate and drank of the elements with faith. This means of grace Wesley identified closely with sanctifying grace … Communion provides the believer with the access to the grace which they need to literally walk the Christian walk and improve their Christianity toward the goal that God has for them in Christ Jesus. Let me ask the question that we started with, “Are you living the transformed life right now? Let’s take a moment and examine ourselves before God.