Sunday, February 18, 2007

Picture This

[This message was shared during the weekend worship celebrations of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on February 17 and 18, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, you're invited to worship with us on Saturdays at 5:30PM or Sundays at 10:00AM.]

Luke 9:28-36
Many of you may know about the Magic Eye books. They contain page after page of illustrations, often just mazes of colorful shapes or dots, sometimes single images. But there's more to these simple pictures than what a surface glance shows. My kids taught me that if you stared at the pages just right, you could see new images that somehow formed in the midst of the page.

I was looking at some Magic Eye images on the Internet the other day. Take a look at this one. It’s a picture of roses. But if you look closer, more intently, another image emerges among the flowers.

Truth be told, there’s a pretty important lesson to be learned from these Magic Eye images: It’s possible that there may be more than meets the eye to anything or anyone we see, including Jesus Christ.

As the events recounted in today’s Bible lesson begin, the apostles think they have a clear picture of Who Jesus is. Just a few verses earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Peter has said that Jesus is “The Messiah of God.” But soon, we’ll see that like many people who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ or many Christians who mumble creeds and prayers without faith or commitment, the apostles then were sleepwalking through life. They were inattentive to Who Jesus really was and the life to which He really calls all people.

Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up on a mountain. As Jesus prays and the apostles fight off sleep, Jesus’ appearance is changed. (This is what that word transfiguration means.) An aura of brilliant light surrounds Him, the very light of heaven. Then, two great Old Testament figures, Moses, the bringer of God’s Law, and Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, both of whom had lived many centuries earlier, show up beside Jesus. They talk about Jesus’ impending crucifixion.

Shaking off his sleep, amazed by what he sees, Peter suggests that monuments to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah be built on the mountaintop. Just as he says this, a cloud, like the cloud of fire that led the ancient people of Israel through the Promised Land, surrounds them. The apostles are terrified. They squint in the blinding light and all they see is Jesus. Next comes a voice that says something like this: “This is My Son. Listen to Him. Listen only to Him!”

Peter, James, and John now get a different picture of Jesus. It will take His death and resurrection for them to see it clearly.

But the picture should be clear to us.

Jesus is more than a miracle worker.

More than a Teacher.

More than a King.

He isn’t Mister Rogers in a bathrobe or just a carpenter who knew how to preach.

Jesus was and is God and the Savior of the universe...
the only One Who can give us life that lasts forever,
the only One Who can help us make sense of this life,
the only One Who can give us hope that never fails!
This is the definitive picture of Jesus--the God wrapped in the man, the Savior seen in the signs, the Messiah behind the miracles--to which all the Bible lessons of this Epiphany season have been moving us.

But if our lives on this planet and the life of Friendship are ever going to be all that God intends for them to be, our picture of Jesus must be more than just Biblically accurate. After all, even the devil of hell has a Biblically accurate picture of Jesus.

This picture of Jesus as God and Savior must be more than an image we hold in our minds or hang on our walls or that we memorialize in our sanctuaries.

We must make Jesus...
our obsession,
our food,
our breath,
our lives.
We must commit ourselves to letting this picture of Jesus so fill us that whenever others talk to us, hear us, or spend time with us, they will see Jesus’ pictured in us. According to the Bible, God has destined all who follow Christ, “to be conformed to the image of his Son...”

In the Lenten season which starts this coming week with our Ash Wednesday worship at 7:00PM, I challenge you...
  • to attend our Wednesday Soup and Salad gatherings,
  • to read the ‘Making Room for Jesus’ daily devotions with your household or friends as well as follow its daily action steps, and
  • to be in worship every Saturday or Sunday.
More than that, I challenge you to ask God to work on you so that as people observe you living your lives, in spite of your human imperfections, they’ll see the very image of Jesus in you.

But I challenge you in one more important way. Before I tell you what it is, I need to explain something.

It would have been easy for Jesus, Peter, James, and John to have stayed on that mountain. For Jesus, it would have been especially inviting, I imagine. He knew what suffering and rejection awaited Him. He knew that He would die on the executioner's cross.

Staying on the mountain would have appealed to the three apostles with Jesus, too. They could have spent the rest of their lives reminiscing about that spectacular moment when Jesus was revealed as Savior and King. That, in fact, is very like what most churches do: They reminisce about the glory days, whether the glory days refer to when Jesus walked the earth or former times in their congregations.

Most churches are nothing more than groups of nice people who treat each other nicely and hear old stories and sing old songs, all the while secretly wondering...
  • why they never sense God speaking to them,
  • why their sanctuaries aren’t bursting at the seams with people wanting to follow Jesus,
  • why they have no joy in the Lord,
  • why Christ doesn’t show up in their lives.
The answer to those riddles can be seen in where Jesus led the three apostles after the events recounted in today’s Bible lesson.

He took them down from the mountain, down where their neighbors lived, down where people struggled with problems, down where people looked for hope.

Luke's other book in the New Testament, Acts, tells us that as the apostles and the other followers of Jesus
dared to put Jesus Christ first in their everyday lives,
dared to love others as they loved themselves,
dared to serve in Jesus’ Name, and
dared to invite others to follow Jesus, Christ showed up in their lives even after He’d died, risen, and gone to heaven.
God spoke to their hearts and minds.

The fellowship of believers grew steadily day by day.

And they had real joy!

Your Church Council has decided that, just as last year was the time when the life of servanthood was wired into the our congregation’s culture, 2007 is when we will make sharing Christ and growing as a church central to the life of Friendship.

Speaking of pictures, picture this: Our sanctuary filled with people every Saturday and Sunday.

Or this: A congregation not only serving in Jesus’ Name, but telling others about the new life to be had in Christ.

Picture every member of Friendship inviting a new person to worship with us every month.

Picture yourself bringing one more spiritually-disconnected friend into Jesus’ Kingdom in 2007.

Picture us worshiping together not too long from now, every chair filled and people standing and sitting on the perimeter, each one in awe of the Savior Who loved them enough to go to a cross and to rise so that they could have life with God forever!

Soon, the Church Council will be voting on a plan for Congregational Growth. They’ll be setting a goal for how many new members we will receive in Friendship by the end of this year.

More than that, they will be offering you the tools by which you can individually contribute to this growth. You’ll get those tools through something called Witnesses for Christ.

This plan for growth will also entail your being actively engaged in the Christian life--starting with regular worship, which we call our weekly pep rally.

The members of your church council will also be sharing with us their personal evangelism goals; that is, they’ll share their personal goals for how many people they will bring into relationship with Christ and into the life of Friendship.

We’ll urge each of you to have your own personal goals.

We’ll have a thermometer in the church lobby to track our progress, just as we did last year when, with prayer and reliance on Christ, we set and then smashed an ambitious goal for outside-of-the-congregation service hours in the community.

Let me summarize those challenges again:
  • 1. Read and act on the ‘Making Room for Jesus’ devotions this Lenten season.
  • 2. Participate in each of our ‘Soup and Salad’ gatherings which start on Wednesday, February 28.
  • 3. Be in worship on Saturdays or Sundays.
  • 4. Get involved with the Witnesses for Christ training when it’s offered.
  • 5. Embrace personal goals of inviting at least one spiritually disconnected person to worship with us every month.
  • 6. Make it your goal to bring one spiritually-disconnected person into the fellowship of the Church by the end of this year.
  • 7. And finally, pray that Friendship will grow in faith and numbers in 2007.
Until Friendship becomes an active witnessing church, each of its members committed to taking people with them to heaven by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with them, our lives as Christians will be incomplete.

Every Christian is called to be a witness for Christ. In fact, we’re commanded to be witnesses for Christ. And because God always gives us the capacity to do what He commands us to do, every Christian is also given the ability by God to be witnesses for Christ in their own unique ways.

Let Christ change your picture not only of Him, but of yourself. Allow Him to show you that you can use your own unique talents, gifts, and personalities to bring others into Christ’s Kingdom. You can tell others about Christ. You can invite them to worship with us.

I know that every member of our congregation wants Friendship to grow. We all want others to experience life with Jesus Christ. Through the Witnesses for Christ sessions we'll start to offer after Easter, you will be given the tools by which you'll be able to share your faith without being pushy or anyone other than who you are.

Jesus Christ, the glorious Savior, King, and God, revealed on the mountain of Transfiguration is still alive and still in business. So, above all, I challenge you (and me), not just in the Lenten season about to start, but every day of your life, to let people see Jesus living in you so that they too will turn from sin and have life with God forever.


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