Sunday, September 22, 2013

Altar Ego: Becoming who God says you are

We begin a series called, “Altar Ego.”  I want you to think about the beautiful altars, all around the world, that adorn churches.  I think I’m going to pick out a pretty altar picture for every week so we can just enjoy the beauty that sits at the very front of so many churches.  It means something to have an altar.  There is something that our altar speaks to us very, very clearly when we put bread and wine on the altar, and hear again the mighty words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in his name, and in remembrance of him, and receiving by faith the altar pours forth life and forgiveness for God’s people in the Sacrament.  The altar:  It has a different function in churches today than it did in Old Testament times, because Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrifice. 


Now, I want you to notice the spelling of “altar” that’s the correct spelling for this kind of altar.  But we’re more used to seeing “alter ego” spelled with an “E.”  And that’s the correct way to spell “alter ego.”  It’s Latin for “the other I.”  Now, there are some famous “alter ego’s” that we know about.  For instance, Dr. Jekyll had his “alter ego”—Mr. Hyde.  It’s the other “I” that he experience after his drinking those crazy chemicals—right?  Superman had his “alter ego”—Clark Kent.  We’re familiar with these famous “alter egos.”  I wonder if we could think of a few more maybe.  Last night I was watching the “Avengers” with my kids.  I wasn’t interested in the movie, but there were so many explosions and things that I went downstairs to see what they were watching.  Dr. Banner had an alter ego—do you remember who that is?  The Hulk.  I think the character with the most “alter egos” I’ve ever known is Snoopy.  Here’s the World War I Flying Ace; here comes the world famous surgeon.  Every time you saw Snoopy he had an “alter ego.” 


Alter egos come from the identity we get sometimes from other people.  In this painful world labels abound--all kinds of labels.  We’re labeled for our skin color; we’re labeled by where we live; by our jobs; by our problems; by our deeds.  There are so many famous people who are famous for their deeds, that their names are sometimes synonymous with a label.  Think about this one:  Thomas.  It’s not just Thomas--it’s what?--Doubting Thomas.  How would you like to be a Doubting Thomas?  Here’s another one:  Benedict Arnold.  OK?  If someone says, “Oh, he’s a Benedict Arnold,” you know right away he’s a traitor.  “He’s a real Einstein.”  Smart—right?  “She’s such a Mother Teresa.”  All these are really like almost like labels, huh?  “He thinks he’s Fred Astaire.”  I threw this one up for fun:  After our wedding, we’re standing outside the chapel, and a long-time family firend came walking out.  She was so excited.  The wedding was so beautiful, and she said, “The two of you are just a Barbie and Ken.”  All of these characters, all of these people are almost like labels.  You know we tend to wear labels that people give us. 


I come to find that to learn who I am I’ve had to learn who I am not.  Maybe that’s true for you too.  I believe a lot of people need to hear this truth:  You are not what others think of you.  Remember a few weeks ago I shared those painful lessons from my wrestling career.  Kids from Anchor Bay chanted, “Loser, loser.”  Sure I lost a lot of wrestling matches, but that does not define me.  You are not your past.  You are not what did.  Brothers and sisters, you are who God says you are. 


An altar in Old Testament times in the Bible was something that was used quite often to change things.  This is a typical biblical altar.  You can have four horns on the altar and the horns on the altar have the blood from the sacrifice.  You know, this is what an altar may have looked like in the Bible.  It’s not “a-l-t-e-r”, it’s “a-l-t-a-r.”


Let’s talk about our “altar ego.”  I don’t know if it’s going to be Latin or what, but I just said, “OK, we’ll just pretend its Latin.”  Our altar ego is the “I” in sacrifice.  It’s not the other “I” that people tell us we are; it’s not the other “I” that we feel we are or think we are; it’s the “I” in sacrifice.  It’s so significant that God’s people start to understand that we are who God says we are—and we’re not finished becoming all he has made us to be.  That’s good news, because I’ve got a long ways to go.  It’s comforting to know I’m not yet who I’m supposed to be, because he’s still working on me.


I sang this song for the Thursday night group so I may as well sing it for you.  It’s a kid’s song, but I love this message.  It goes like this:

                                    He’s still working on me

                                    To make me all I ought to be

                                    It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,

                                    The sun, the earth, and Jupiter and Mars

                                    How loving and patient he must be,

                                    Because he’s still working on me.

He’s still working on me.  He wants us to discover our “altar ego”—the “I” in sacrifice.


Over the course of the next several weeks we’re going to lay some things on the altar.  We’re going to become more and more of what God created us to be.  There are going to be three, major, big-time sacrifices that we’re going to look at--three things that have got to go. The word where “altar” came from, the etymology of that word “altar” actually comes from the word “burn up.”  Some things in our life just need to burn up and go away. 


The first of these three sacrifices would be to sacrifice our false self for our sacred identity in Christ.  That’s hard.  We spent all our life hearing and seeing and feeling and believing our identity from our experience from what other people have said from our needs and our thoughts, and our condition.  Over the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at this particular difficult sacrifice.  What will it take for us to just burn up that false self and grapple with the truth of who we are in Christ? 


The next enormous sacrifice that we’ll be talking about a few weeks later is that we will learn to sacrifice cultural relativity for eternal values.  Now, before you think, “This is just about being good and bad.”  That’s not it.  We, in this country, have embraced a life-style, a culture, an understanding of how people ought to be and how people ought to think and how people ought to act based on how we fit in with the rest of the culture.  It’s hard to throw that on the altar.  It’s not cool.  There’s a song, maybe you’ve heard it on KTIS, “I’m not cool, but that’s OK, my God loves me anyway.”  We need to get rid of the cultural relativity for eternal values.


The third big sacrifice that we’re going to be talking about, and I hope I can get this done before Christmas, is we’re going to learn to sacrifice self-justification for passionate living in Christ.  We have a tendency to want to justify ourselves, our behaviors, and our thoughts.  We think well of ourselves, we try to think highly of ourselves, and give us that sense that we’re doing OK and often times we self justify.  “That’s not my gift.  That’s not my calling.  I get uncomfortable in those situations.” 


So these three huge sacrifices on the altar will help us see the other “I”--the “I” in sacrifice.  You know, when I say these things, you might be like me just doubting and thinking, “Wow, I don’t know if I can make all those sacrifices.  I don’t know if I have the fortitude, the strength, the ability, the courage to put those things on the altar and burn them up.  My identity, my culture, my defense of myself, can I really let that go and let God speak to me about who I am in Christ.  I don’t know if I have it in me.”  Who is the “I” in sacrifice?


There aren’t any animal sacrifices to cover sin.  There is “the” sacrifice the Lord Jesus Christ, but who’s the “I” in sacrifice?  Have you noticed there are two?  Two “I’s” in sacrifice.  Galatians 2:20 tells us:  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”  The “I” in sacrifice that is me has been dealt with on the cross.   The “I” in sacrifice with all the labels, with all the wrong values, with all the fears of self-justification--that “I” is gone.  Crucified with Christ—it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.  Two “I’s” in sacrifice.  The “I” I brought to the cross was crucified with Christ.


But the verse goes on to explain that there is more.  “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  What’s good about this is that when I think about the great big sacrifices and my weakness and inability sometimes to put those things on the altar, Jesus already took them--He already took them. 


So over these next few weeks, we’re going to learn about the sacrifice of our false identity.  And we learn that we are not defined by others, but instead we are God’s masterpiece.  We’re going to learn that in a world where people are defeated again and again by sin, death, and the power of devil we are truly overcomers.  It is my prayer that we truly see how powerfully we are called to be ambassadors for this One who gave himself for us.  This is who we are in Christ. 


When we learn about the sacrifice of worldly values and the difficulty of giving up the culture that makes us feel so comfortable we will learn that God will give us such things as patience, integrity, honor, and gratitude.  These are the kind of things that will characterize our life—the life we now live in flesh.  We live by faith in the Son of God, and patience, integrity, honor, and gratitude, those kinds of things will mark our lives, because God has made us different.  The “I” in sacrifice, my “I” is gone, and all that Jesus is and has done is given to us. 


When we learn to sacrifice our self-justification and our puffed up pride, we will discover passionate living in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Things will take on a boldness you may never have known before with bold choices for living, bold prayers, bold words, confident words, words that come from Scripture and are rooted in our souls.  And a bold walk that people will see the grace and the goodness of God.


There’s another “I” in my life.  An “altar ego”, super hero, Jesus Christ.  Like the Adult Bible Class between services we’re going to discover what it is to have the God of the Universe living in us, working in us, changing us, showing us the other “I”—Him.  It’s going to make a difference for our lives and our ministry.


Gracious God, thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus.  His death on the cross has given us every reason for hope and joy.  Lord we ask that you would fill us with your Holy Spirit, as we learn about that in our Bible Class in just a few minutes.  That you would just fill us with your Holy Spirit and calls us to live like we mean it.  With your grace and favor, not our own strength, but with your strength, with the sacrifice you made we are forgiven.  In the power you pour out we are enabled to serve you with full and happy hearts.  In Jesus name, amen.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Worthy is the Lamb!

This young man is an amazing singer. Jotta is from Brazil. I can hardly shut off the tears when I watch this glorious song!  He has an amazing gift!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The NEU Mann Bookstore!

I'm doing some updating on this...
I started a bookstore a while back when I was working on some church consulting. I decided to keep the great leadership and organization product categories in the navigation bar I'll be adding more titles and categories soon.  The resource that inspired my current sermon series is available on the "Mark's Current Top Picks" page. Check it out!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Legalitis: Why do we obey some rules but not others?

2013 Lenten Sermon Series

Today I’m going to talk to you about “Legalitis.”  This is another spiritually transmitted disease that is rampant in our world today--and even in our churches today.  It’s easy because religions love to find ways to make you look better, feel better, act better, and be better, because a lot of false religions out there put an emphasis on good behavior.  Now, Pharisees were great legalists.  A legalist puts value on life and conduct that’s regulated by laws; and Pharisees did a great job with that.  When Moses gave the Ten Commandments and other civil and ceremonial laws, the Pharisees went crazy with laws.  They thought, “Wow, what a great idea.  We can regulate everything in our lives.  We can make laws about how we do things in our synagogues, in our homes, in our communities in such a way that we can really be good at following the laws.”  Last week I mentioned that they had some six hundred and thirty-one laws in addition to the ones that God gave in the Bible.  That’s crazy.  But legalists do put value on someone who can stand up and obey all of the laws and rules that they’ve got. 

Now there are some strange laws in the Bible, I’ll have to admit.  There are some strange ones.  For instance, Leviticus 19 says this:  “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind.  You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed.  Nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.”  How many of us in this room are guilty right now?  Look at the tag.  You see that you are probably in violation of one of God’s laws.  This is actually one that God gave the Israelites.  And you say, “Wait a minute.  We don’t follow that law anymore.  We don’t look at our tags before we buy our clothes.”  Why is it that we obey some laws and not others?  We do this a lot in our lives. 

I want to share with you something I think will help you.  There are basically three types of Biblical Law.  Based on what types they are this is how we deal with law in our lives.  First of all there’s the moral law.  These are the Ten Commandments.  This is a universal law that is actually true, good and right all the time.  Even people who don’t have any Christian faith, who don’t have any reference or knowledge to God, people know.  There’s a certain morality to being human and living in this world that’s very important.  They don’t get all the Ten Commandments quite right, but we all generally know it’s not right to kill, it’s not right to steal, it’s not right to lie.  Even people who don’t know God know that those are good moral laws to obey.  Jesus told us and showed us that moral law is best expressed in love.  A loving God and by loving one another, we will keep the moral law—even without trying so hard.  It kind of fits us well as God’s people. 

Then in the Bible there were civil-political laws.  Civil-political laws were laws that pertained to the nation of Israel.  And as long as the nation of Israel remained a sovereign nation, with its rules and regulations, those laws applied.  We have local laws.  We have speed limit laws.  We have traffic regulations.  We have city ordinances.  We even have neighborhood covenants and agreements with how we want to live in our locality.  Now, some of those civil-political laws in the Old Testament were kind of strange.  Some of them were really goofy.  But, they were nonetheless local laws.  We have some strange local laws.  Did you know that it is still to this day illegal to provide alcoholic beverages in Alaska to the moose population?  Go figure!  You don’t want to have a bunch of drunken moose out there.  So they actually have a law that you can’t let moose drink in Alaska.  In Atlanta it is illegal to give monkeys cigarettes.  I suppose at the zoo people were getting a kick out of the monkey that smokes.  But they passed a law that you can’t do this with our monkeys in Atlanta.  And in those localities those laws can and should be enforced, even if they’re goofy.  They make sense maybe for that local area.

Then there’s a third kind of law and that is a ceremonial law.  Ceremonial laws are laws and customs that pointed to the Messiah—that pointed to a spiritual truth that was taught or acted out in fulfilling the requirements of ceremonial law.  Now, we’re told in the Bible that the moral law is a good law to obey—to show our love for one another, and our love for God.  Jesus spoke very highly of keeping the law by way of loving one another.  He was real clear about that.  So moral law is something we can’t just discard.  It’s very important that we have the moral law to live in a good relationship with one another.  We still have civil-political laws.  If you go ninety miles an hour down I-94 you are in jeopardy of getting a ticket.  That’s against the law.  Sure your car can go that fast, but we all agree you can’t go ninety miles an hour on I-94.  So we still follow those laws and do so unwillingly, because we want to be good citizens.  We even still have some ceremonial laws.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and so we do celebrate the Lord’s Supper. 

The problem that legalists have and the problem with legalitis is when we add to these laws more and more--kind of like the Pharisees did.  Legalists say, “We have rules here! Even if they’re unbearable or way beyond crazy, keeping them outwardly gives a sense of moral superiority. A legalist doesn’t mind adding laws to our rule book.  Many ceremonies and rituals have no clear cut command or bases in Scripture.  That’s why it’s important in this Lenten season that we look deep within us and ask the Lord, “Is there any little bit of Pharisee in me?  Any bit in me that needs correction, please help me Lord Jesus.” 

Laws are good and all three of these types of laws are around today.  We don’t just throw them out.  But here’s what the danger is:  False religions teach salvation through life and conduct that follows the rules.  False religions actually attach salvation to it.  False teachers teach that following the Commandments will gain you greater love from God.  That’s not possible.  God loves us and he’s loved us with a perfect, holy love.  Well, laws and rules being what they are a legalist or someone with legalitis reacts differently to laws then someone who is grace-based, who understands that our freedom and salvation comes only by the gift of God’s grace.  I’d like to look at these two sides of the coin.  Someone with legalitis sees the law as something to strive for, and so there’s lots of striving for good behavior.  There’s real discouragement when there’s a moral failure or mistake that’s made, and the striving has to be increased.  I remember one time I was talking to a friend and we were talking about the difficulties of living a straight, godly, wonderful life with no hint of disobedience.  He said, “Mark, the problem is that we have to quit striving and start repenting.”  I thought, “Yes, there it is.  That’s the truth.”  But it’s so hard for someone who has a little legalistic bent in them to say, “All right, I’ll stop striving, and start repenting.” 

On the grace side we thrive on grace and peace to follow the Lord and to say, “Thank you Lord, for forgiving my sins.  Thank you for helping me in my striving to draw closer to you and to find real and abundant life.  Legalitis brings with it a curse.  It seems like a curse.  Who would want to join a church that seems to just put a heavy curse on you—a difficult way of living?  Instead, on the grace side we have a connection instead of a curse.  We have a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Pharisees were known for the heavy yoke.  It was place upon their adherence.  Jesus said, “I have an easy yoke that fits well.  It’s right for you.”  When people emphasize the law, when they have legalitis, they tend to avoid God.  They tend to run and hide when their deeds are exposed.  But people who understand the love and grace of God know that they desire him, and they want to be close to him.  They want to draw near. 

Legalists and people with legalitis are often fruitless.  They don’t have those things that we call the “fruit of the spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithful, humility, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  But those whose lives are marked by grace are fruitful.  Romans 3 says this:  “We know that whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law.  So that every mouth be silenced in the whole world and held accountable to God.  Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law we’ve become conscious of sin.  But now righteousness from God, apart from the law has been made known to which the law and prophets testified.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 2:8 says, “It is by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”  We tend to struggle toward wanting to fulfill the requirements of the law when God is calling us to trust in Jesus.

I have some shoes to show you.  They are actually shoes that you have time to purchase right now if you go to e-bay.  You can buy these shoes, (and they are used,) but you can buy it now for $999.99!  They were once owned and worn by Liberace himself.  You still have time so you don’t need to leave the service to get to your computer.  Unbelievable!  Here’s a clump of hair from the barber shop.  It sold from $115,000.00 a few years back because it came off of Elvis Presley’s head.  This jar of air sold for over $500.00, because this jar of air has the breath, the breath of Brad Pitt.  Here’s a Kleenex that sold for around $4,000.00, used Kleenex.  That’s right, Scarlet Johansson blew her nose in it!  This one really gets me going here.  Used chewing gum!  But it was chewed by Britney Spears and sold for $14,000.00.  Don’t you love a celebrity auction?  This door knob sold for $1140.00.  The wooden hanger sold for $780.00 simply because they came from the home and the estate of Marilyn Monroe.

A legalist places value on how well you behave and follow the rules. They see the quality someone’s virtue.  God values us because we’ve been touched by Jesus.  The celebrity auction stuff is just plain and ordinary.  The quality is Christ.  While we are still sinners, though we deserve his condemnation and wrath, God sees us in light of the fact that Jesus has touched us with his healing grace.  He’s bled and died on the cross to take away our sins.  We are not saved by works of the law.  In fact, in Christ faith is our only obligation.  That’s it.  Faith is the only obligation we have to God.  To trust him, to believe what he says is very true.  The rest of God’s law is celebration.  It’s wonderful to love our neighbors.  It’s wonderful to love God and to let that love drive the way we behave toward others.  We all need a pharisectomy from time to time.  We all need to let Jesus touch us, and put the value in our lives not because we’re so holy but because he’s so holy.  It’s that righteousness that comes from God apart from works of the law.  Here at Berea we want to teach grace over and over and over again so that we know God’s freedom, so that we have hope and joy.

Let’s pray:  Gracious God, thank you so much for giving us your Word.  Thank you for setting us free from strict obedience to the law.  Instead Lord, you’ve given us grace through Jesus.  You’ve made us righteous apart from the law, and now Lord you bid us to love you and to love one another in such a way that the law is not a heavy burden but a light one.  Not a curse but a connection.  We thank you Gracious Lord for rooting out that inner Pharisee in us.  We confess that we have been legalistic far too often in our lives.  Thank you for setting us free in Jesus.  Help us to fulfill that only obligation to trust in him with the fullness of our hearts.  In his Holy name we pray, Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

PharINFECTION: A Pharisee Epidemic?

2013 Lenten Sermon Series
The First Sunday in Lent
Pastor Mark Neumann 

I’d like to focus our thoughts on religious diseases over the next few weeks.  I’d like to do so because in our day and age, I think people are very much afraid of churches, or they’re irritated by churches; or they don’t understand what churches are for.  I believe it’s because spiritual diseases are rampant in our world today.  Now, that might sound weird that I would call something a spiritual disease, but you know people today have gotten so sensitive to hypocrisy, anger, self-righteousness, rituals, and all kind of things “religious.”  We’ve gotten so that many people don’t want any part of a church.  They don’t realize that this is a place where you can actually find healing; where there actually is peace and joy and blessing.

I’ve been reading a book called Pharasectomy by Peter Haas.  He is a pastor at a church here in the Twin Cities called Substance.  A lot of young people are flocking to that church, and not because it’s a snazzy place to be, but they’re trying to see the substance of Christian faith.  But what Peter Haas is getting at in his book Pharasectomy is that there is a little trouble that all God’s people sometimes face with a little inner Pharisee in their own life.  If you’re a church-going person, which I hope we all are, you have a tendency, as Jesus noted in the days that he walked the earth, to get a little “pharinfection” from time to time.  That’s what we’re going to talk about today—a little “pharinfection.”

Jesus said this in Luke 12:1:  “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”  Today, with all of the “feel good” philosophy out there, with all of the self-righteous people that walk the earth, people are really sensitive to hypocrisy these days.  You can sniff it out really easily.  Jesus said it was like yeast or leaven in a loaf of bread.  You could see that little air-pockets in a slice of bread are illustrative of yeast that has worked its way through the dough.  A Pharinfection goes everywhere.  It gets all you.  It gets in your thinking; it gets in your actions; it gets in the way you look, the way it you go about your business. 

We’ve been bashing Pharisees for a couple thousand years, but before we get too hard on the Pharisees we have to remember that, in their day, they where really considered the pinnacle of spirituality.  They were considered the good “church people” of the day.  They were very well respected.  In fact, Jesus said they loved to be greeted in the marketplace, and talked with at the city gates.  They memorized Scripture.  Every Pharisee had to at least memorize the first five books of the Bible, if not a whole bunch of Psalms and other teachings.  They memorized more than any of us have ever memorized.  That was something to be admired in a Pharisee.  They prayed seven, eight times a day.  Their prayer-life was very, very much a part of how they lived day to day.  They would do fasting; they would make their bodies disciplined under the discipline of fasting and prayer.  They were so highly disciplined that they followed rules like no one’s business. 
But Jesus said, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”  I was interested in the word, “hypocrisy.”  We talk about hypocrites all the time.  I wondered if we really understand where this word comes from.  It actually comes from a Greek word hypocrisis, the word that is used for an actor on a stage.  An actor on a stage—that’s hypocrisy, because the person is merely acting out a role.  The job of the audience is to watch and see how well that hypocrite does doing his role on the stage.  You see, a Pharisee lives on a stage

Our culture today often times sees religious people, church people, living on a stage.  To be seen, to be admired, to be respected, to be elevated higher above everyone else.  That way of thinking can get inside of us, so that what we do and how we’re seen is on display for everyone.  Remember the little picnic we participated in this past summer, serving people who were exploited here in the Twin Cities?  We didn’t put a big sign up to draw attention to what we were doing.  There were just a few of us that cooked burgers and participated in some of the games and watching kids.  Berea as a congregation participated by providing a bouncy-house for the kids.  Our elders approved that, and you made it happen.  It was real “behind the scenes”; it wasn’t on a stage; we got no recognition for it.  I’m telling you this because I think that’s cool.  That is a great way to love on other people—to love on all kinds of people. 

Now, a Pharisee lives on a stage but Jesus lives in the field.  I thought about how I could compare and contrast a Jesus follower with a Pharisee, and what I saw with Jesus was he wasn’t on the stage as much as he was in the field.  Whether he was playing the role of a sower who went out to sow some seeds, or whether he’s playing the role of shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, Jesus is out where the action is.  He’s not doing it to go on display.  He’s doing it because he loves and cares for people.  Churches today would be so attractive, not for things they could show, but for the things that they do.  If we were like Jesus, living in the field, caring for his flock, sowing the seeds, tending the gardens, spiritual life is like nurturing something.  And when a church comes along and nurtures like Jesus did, we won’t live it out on a stage but out in the field.

Imagine a yoke.  It is said that there were Pharisee schools.  Some of them were noted for the yoke that the people wore.  Not a literal yoke, but they would say, “That rabbi puts a heavy yoke on the hearer.”  And Jesus even said that in Matthew 23.  He talked about how the Pharisees loved to put burdens on people--burdens so heavy that they were unwilling to bear those burdens themselves.  A Pharisee’s yoke is a heavy burden.  It’s meant to be hard.  It’s meant to be joyless and rigorous.  Lot of times when people look at a church they check the joy level.  Sometimes they see that it’s just nothing but a bunch of work, a bunch of rules, and a bunch of laws.  The Pharisees were very good at piling up a heavy burden on people.  So Jesus said, “My yoke is easy.”  I know I’ve shared this with you in previous messages.  This is one of my favorite passages in Scripture, where Jesus talks about how his yoke is easy.  That literally means that it fits well.  Matthew eleven, thirty—Jesus said, “Come, take my yoke on you and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  The yoke for the Pharisee was bondage to the work of the Law.  The yoke of Jesus fits well and is about working in a partnership with him, and it’s so right for our lives.

God gave us his Laws, we call them the Ten Commandments.  The Pharisees did something with God’s Law that I think you will find pretty interesting.  A Pharisee builds hedges.  In other words, they took one of the Ten Commandments and in order to honor and elevate that commandment they would make even more laws about that.  So many more laws, that it was almost impossible to keep the Commandment, because to keep the Commandment you had to keep all these other laws.  But, they thought if you kept all these other laws, you’d do a pretty good job keeping the Commandments.  It was all a bunch of self-righteousness.  So the Pharisees built hedges with laws around the Law.  What’s interesting is that they always busted people, always got them in trouble, not for breaking the laws, not for disobeying the laws, but for disobeying the hedges.  Like when Jesus and his disciples were called on the carpet for disobeying the laws of the Sabbath.  They weren’t disobeying the laws of the Sabbath; they were crossing under the Pharisee’s hedges.  This stuff gets all over us when the Pharisee lives inside. 

Jesus builds hedges with love.  You know, it could be said that Jesus did the same thing.  He took a Commandment and he says, “You have heard it said, `You shall not murder.  But I tell you, whoever hates his brother is a murderer.’”  It almost seems like Jesus is doing the same thing with the hedge, but notice this important point--Jesus builds a hedge with love.  Do you see if we love our brother there is no possible way that we will murder.  If we’re careful with our eyes and with our thoughts, there is no way to lust.  Jesus builds hedges around the Law with love.  There’s a huge difference there.  So, whether it’s the stage, a yoke, or hedges, we do guard against that yeast.  That Pharisee infection can go everywhere.  The tendency to want to make Christianity a great burden instead of a life that fits us well, the tendency to take our Christianity out there for a show, a public display on how good we are, or to put hedges around are laws and our traditions and our church.  Those things can infect us. 

The little bubbles all over the bread tell us the story—yeast goes everywhere.  And that’s hypocrisy.  It’s all an act.  It’s all a show.  It’s like the outside doesn’t match the inside.  The exact opposite of that we learn from the Gospel.  The exact opposite of the Pharinfection or the Pharisee infection is integrity.  Integrity is making the inside match the outside, and the outside match the inside.  Jesus was very clear to point this out.  He said, “You Pharisees are like whitewashed tombs.  You look beautiful on the outside.  Oh my goodness, you’ve glistened in the sunshine, but inside is full of dead men’s bones.”

I know, it’s true, for me as I expect for many of you, that we like it when we can show our righteousness, when we can make it look like we’re working really hard for the kingdom.  Or when we protect our traditions and our customs and our buildings and whatever it is.  Inside of us there can be a little Pharisee just wanting to spread its bubbles everywhere.  Jesus, going to cross, did so because of the dead man’s bones inside of us.  He did it because he didn’t want us to be whitewashed tombs.  He wanted us to be genuine people--people who had a relationship with the heavenly Father, because of their love for him and his love for them.  He wanted the inside and the outside to match.  That’s integrity.  Now you and I. can fail to live up to that righteous standard of Jesus Christ.  But when he went to the cross, he gladly and lovingly exchanged his perfect life for our messed up ones, and he took all our sins and bore them away on the cross.  We can’t be Pharisees in Christ.  We are forgiven.  And we’re honest about that forgiveness.  We have a wonderful message to share with others.

Gracious God, we thank you so much for the love and grace that you’ve given us in Jesus.  We thank you that his death on the cross has made the inside of our lives match the outside, and made the outside match the inside.  O God, we pray that through the life and death of and resurrection of Jesus we might be rid of this inner Pharisee, and that we would embrace our forgiveness with honesty and integrity and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”  We’re not on a stage.  We’re not pulling a load with a yoke that’s heavy.  We’re not building hedges with no laws, but with your love.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Good Lord to be Here!

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, It’s an amazing account in Scripture of Jesus in dazzling glory, appearing with Moses and Elijah.  Three of his disciples were with him, on a mountain top, saying, “How good, Lord, to be here!”  This past summer I was in the Grand Teton National Park, and there was a chapel of the Transfiguration there.  It was a tiny, little log chapel and looked out onto the mountain range.  It was beautiful.  I thought, “Oh, it’s good to be here!”  The disciples had an amazing experience, one that made them want to stay on that mountain with Jesus.

You don’t have to look very far; these messages all over the place—I’d rather be fishing; I’d rather be sleeping; I’d rather be playing Bingo; I’d rather eat dirt; I’d rather be fishing with my grandpa; I’d rather be hunting.  “I would rather be . . .”   You can fill in the blank—where would you rather be?  A lot of us at any given time might think, “I rather be someplace else—like this little Hawaii license plate.  I think today is a great day to say, “I’d rather be in Hawaii.”  Right?!  U-betcha!  I’d rather be in Hawaii--especially when we’re considering getting so much snow. 

There are good places and bad places to be.

We’d all agree that it’s not good to be in adversity.  It’s not a comfortable place.  We’d love a ticket to someplace else if we’re facing adversity.  Or poverty, it’s not good to be in poverty.  It’s not good to fail or to feel like your failing, or to be in a constant state of failure.  It’s not good to be there.  It’s not good to be suffering.  No one wants that.  Captivity, I know around the world there are many, many people who just are not free.  They’re held captive in jails, prisons, detention camps, and all over the place.  It’s not good to be experiencing regret or fear.  These things are very difficult on our mind and emotions.  It’s not good to face so much temptation in the world around us.  It’s not good to be in a state of war.  None of us would argue that it’s not good to be sick.  It’s not good to be in a state of sin.  Death is not good.  Any one of us would take a look at that list and say, “I’d rather be . . .” and fill in the blank.  Yes, there are some bad places to be in this life.

I want to place this amazing event called “The Transfiguration” into context for us.  Calvary is very close.  We’re told that this event happened just before Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die to take away our sins.  We’re told that Jesus goes up there to pray.  Now, he did this quite often.  He went up on the mountain to pray and to be with God.  He often sought God’s confirmation and direction in moving forward in his ministry.  It was wonderful how he did that.  It’s a great thing that happens for Jesus to just have this opportunity to be alone with God and his disciples.  It’s a wonderful get-away. 

Now, let’s look at this get-away --the view, the visit, and the voice.  Here’s the view… Jesus was once again enveloped in the glory that belonged to him.  He was so dazzling white--the account says, “He was shining like the sun.”  And his clothes became whiter than any launderer could get them.  Amazing!  Then there was the visit...  We’re told that Moses and Elijah were there.  It was a wonderful connection bridging the past with the present, and pointing to the future.  It was as though Moses, the great leader of God’s people in the past and Elijah the great prophet of God’s people in the past, came together to tell Jesus, “You can do it.  This is what we’ve been telling the people about.  You are the one.  You are the chosen of God.  Step forward.  Go to Jerusalem.  The glory of God awaits what you will do there.”  It’s a wonderful connection.  And then there was the voice...  “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; with him I am well pleased.”  It was confirmation for Jesus.  What an amazing event!  But Peter and the other two disciples could have missed it entirely.  I wonder if you caught that in the text.  We read that these disciples were “heavy with sleep.”  That meant, like usual, Jesus went off to pray and they found a little rock or a clump of soft grass and took a good nap.  I could just see them right now, “Oh, I love it when Jesus does this.  We get away for a little while, take a good snooze, it’s great.”  So Jesus is over praying away and the disciples just take a little snooze. 

This is illustrative of the fact that there are many, many things that dull our mind and spirit to make us spiritually asleep.  Lots of things.  These are the kind of things that get in the way of our spiritual alertness, and we all face these things from time to time:  Prejudice, self-satisfaction, lethargy, ignorance, apathy, blindness or deafness to the truth, unbelief, exhaustion.  Any of these things could dull us and make us fall into a little spiritual slumber--where we miss the things of God; where we miss the glory of the Lord Jesus being revealed; where we miss the visit of confirmation from God and the connection to the past.  The disciples very well could have missed this. 

Then you almost gloss over the next point in the text, which is “When they were fully awake they saw his glory and the two men.”  What are the things that wake us up?  What are the things that open our eyes spiritually?  Well, sometimes, it’s the very things that cause us trouble and difficulty.  They can wake us up.  They can get us to pay attention to our deep need for God.  We often times like to brush that stuff aside and say, “I’d rather be someplace else.  I’d rather have an easier way of life.  I’d rather have less pain.”  But sometimes these very situations where we’d rather not be, cause us to open our eyes to see the glory of God. 

In these trials and pain we need three things:  First, we need a word from God.  There are times when our own wisdom simply fails--where we need something specific from God to address our concerns.  Lot of times we just need to know who we are in Christ.  During these times we need a way to God.  Sometimes it seems that it’s such a distance, such a great divide between us and God.  It’s almost like we need to find a way to reconnect with God when we feel lost in these great difficulties.  During these times we need a walk with God.  You’ve all heard that “Footprints in the Sand” poem, talking about two footprints in the sand and then how it fades into one.  It’s when God carries us through difficult times that we realize he’s always walking with us.  We need that walk.  That mountaintop experience gave these disciples those three things.  You had Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet.  Peter, who was there, would later write this in II Peter 1:16 and following:  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  Peter is saying that that amazing experience on the mountaintop was not greater than hearing the clear Word of God—the prophets have spoken and they are absolutely reliable.

Then this experience also gave them an encounter with Moses--perhaps Israel’s greatest leader.  He led them on a long, long journey from the captivity in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Moses, we are told, even learned God’s name at the burning bush.  Learned his name—Yahweh.  He received God’s Laws.  He worked faithfully to help settle disputes and lead the people through a very difficult time in their history.  He pointed to Christ again and again.  So the disciples had the great prophet, Elijah, the great leader Moses, and they saw in all his glory Jesus, Israel’s greatest hope.  He came to walk with us; to be one of us; to live in perfect obedience to God’s Laws—like Moses and Elijah couldn’t; like we can’t.  And that hope that he’s given us is the ultimate way, truth and life, because he paid for our sins on the cross.

I want to encourage you to think about how the disciples felt about being with Jesus.  They said, “Lord, it’s good to be here.”  I think it’s good to be here—at Berea.  Don’t you?  I think it’s good to be here week after week.  We come to hear a word from God.  We hear lessons read.  We speak about these lessons and apply them to our lives.  It’s a wonderful place to be, because we have a word from God.  It is here that we listen to and experience the way to God.  As we come to the Lord’s Supper, as we draw near to him he draws near to us.  It’s so good to be at Berea, because we have a way to God.  Here we experience together a walk with God.  It’s good to be here.  But we can’t stay, sorry, we have to drive away.  The disciples wanted to stay, encountering Jesus and his closeness—his glory.  We have to drive away from Berea, and it’s not because we want to shut this place down and not do anything all week long.  We need to get away from Berea and go back.  The action is back where we came from.  Now that could be a work place, it could be your home, it could be your school, and the action is there.  Just like Jesus who came down from the mountain with his disciples, after this great experience, he stays with us where the action is.  I like that last verse in the hymn we just sang:  “How good Lord to be here!  Yet we may not remain; but since thou bidst us leave the mountain, go with us to the plain.”  And indeed he does still offering us a word from God, a way to God, and a walk with God.

Let’s pray.  O Gracious Lord, thank you for being with us, and for giving us your clear Word and showing us the way.  We pray for Berea, and ask that you would make us a faithful place to gather and grow closer and closer to you.  Thank you for your Word.  Thank you for the way.  And thank you for the walk you’ve given us to share.  In Jesus name, Amen.