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.


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