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PROJECT DEEPER: The Lenten Challenge

All of us have seen the sign along the roadway as we travel through mountains: Scenic Overlook. You can pull over and usually there is a panoramic and scenic view of mountains and valleys.

Mountains have a prominent role in the Bible. They often serve as a strategic meeting place between God and man.

* It was on Mt. Sinai that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses

* It was on a mountain that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac

* It was on Mt. Carmel that Elijah prayed and God answered with fire.

* It was on a mountain where Jesus encountered one of his temptations.

Well today we are going up a mountain. We are going up the mountain with Jesus and three of his disciples. This event is referred to as the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus took three disciples and made His way to the top of the mountain to spend some time in prayer.

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray.

29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. 31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
 32 Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials[f]—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 34 But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. 
 35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One.[g] Listen to him.” 36 When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen
. Luke 9:28-36

We are calling you today to your own transfiguration and transformation. We are inviting  you to journey through the Lenten season by denying yourself and bringing focus to your spiritual life. We are also asking you to remember others in the process.

Here is what Jesus encountered on the Mountain and they are the same things you and I can experience during the next 40 days.

1. He Experienced God’s Presence

And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Luke 9:29

The Bible says, “as He was praying” Jesus changed. An encounter with the presence of God is always live changing. It was not as though a spotlight were shining on Him from somewhere else but from within He radiated the glory and the presence of God.

John would later write in the New Testament. “And we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.”

Peter who was also there wrote later in 2 Peter 1:16-18, 

“For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”

This is still the method to experience God’s presence. When you pray and spend time with God intentionally and consistently things change in your life. This may explain why many people do not pray on a regular basis. When we pray we often don’t like the fact that it forces us to deal with ourselves and changing who we are to be more like Jesus.

Dr. R.G. Lee wrote of making two pastoral calls on the same day. The first one was at the home of a wealthy lady. He was ushered into a home by a man hired to answer the door. It was winter but there were fresh cut flowers on the grand piano in the parlor. He was there to see if the lady was going to pay her pledge for some new stained glass windows. She began to wring her hands and talk about how bad things were. Even though she was standing in the midst of the trappings of wealth she was bemoaning that fact that money was tight. Pastor Lee, commented, “There is only one thing worse than a poor person trying to act rich and that is a rich person trying to act poor.” He couldn’t wait to get out of the house.

His next call took him down a country road to a small cottage like home with a broken down picket fence in front. He walked up the dirt path to the house and started to knock on the door but paused because he heard singing from within.

When the singing was over he knocked and found an elderly widow sitting in her sparsely furnished home with tears streaming down her face. She couldn’t wait to tell her pastor about her morning. It seems that she heated with coal and on this cold winter day she was completely out with no hope of buying anymore. She connected with her heavenly Father and within a few minutes the man who delivers coal knocked on her door and told her he had a load of coal left over and he wondered if she could use it.

When Pastor Lee stood outside her door he heard her singing an old song that goes something like this:

“When I am burdened or weary and sad, Jesus is all I need.
Never He fails to uplift and make glad, Jesus is all I need.
All that I need He will always be.
All that I need till His face I see.
All that I need through eternity.
Jesus is all I need.”

We call you today to experience the presence of God in your life between now and Easter.


2. He was Empowered by God’s Purpose

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. 31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Luke 9:30-31

What an incredible scene!

The only logical conclusion I can use to explain this story is that Jesus was praying and as a human or as a man, He was deeply concerned about the death and crucifixion He was facing in a short time. Who wouldn’t have some serious moments of reflection if you knew how and when you were going to die. He knew the precise day and hour and the details of his brutal and barbaric death. I believe He was on that mountain in distress and could have easily called on His heavenly Father to turn the mountain into a place for ascending back to the Father instead of going on with the plan to die for our sins.

What does God do? He sends two old saints who died thousands of years before to speak with Jesus.

Moses: represents the law of the Old Testament
Elijah: represents the prophets of the Old Testament

They spoke with him about his death and exodus which he was about to fulfill. Can I just speculate for a moment? I can hear Moses telling him stories from the Old Testament that pointed to Jesus coming as the sacrifice to pay for all sins. Moses could have talked about a serpent raised in the wilderness on a pole symbolic of Jesus cross. He could have reminded him of the story of the Passover lamb that was slain so that blood could be put on the doorposts of Jewish homes to save them from death and destruction in Egypt.

Elijah could have quoted hundreds of prophetic words spoken by men and women of old who looked down through the centuries and saw one who would come to bear the sins of the world.

Jesus had a purpose but on this day I think he needed to be reminded of that purpose.

You and I have a purpose in life ordained by God. We have been given strengths and talents that allow us to be His body on this earth doing His will. Do you know what your purpose is? Do you want to know what your purpose is?  

Again we call you to a time of focus and fasting in this Lenten Season to understand your value and worth the Kingdom and cause of God on this earth.

Someone said, “Shakespeare could take a worthless sheet of paper, write a poem and make it worth millions, and that’s genius

Bill Gates could sign his name and be worth billions, and that’s capital.

Uncle Sam can take a piece of paper and put 10, 20, 50 or 100 on it and that’s money.

An artist can take a canvas and brush some paint on it and make it valuable and that’s art.

More importantly Jesus can take a worthless life wash it with His sacrificial blood and make a man or woman a benefit and blessing to the world around them and that’s Salvation.

You and I have worth and value when we allow ourselves to be used by God. 

3. He was Encouraged by His Position

Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One.[g] Listen to him.” Luke 9:35

Can you imagine anything more affirming than hearing these words from your father? That connection alone is worth more than money can buy.

After all this is about to end and Peter has spoken once again out of turn, a cloud covers them representing the presence of God and they are terrified. And then a voice, not just any voice but The Voice of God speaks these reassuring and loving words affirming the position of Jesus as the Son of God.

You and I share that same position when we connect with God. We are called sons and daughters of God!

Jesus withdrew from His normal routine and went up a mountain for reflection and prayer. He withdrew from the turmoil and travail of the road to the cross He was walking daily. He surveyed it from this lofty height and then strengthened by heavenly visitors and voice of His Heavenly Father He descended from the mountain and back into the clamor and demands of the crowds.

There awaited Him a tormented boy and a distressed father seeking deliverance.
 
There awaited Him the death of a close friend named Lazarus. (a reminder of His own death and resurrection)

There awaited Him a conversation with a rich young ruler who wouldn’t get His message.

There awaited him a man named Zacchaeus sitting up in a tree.

There awaited Him a bitter sweet entry into Jerusalem where the fickle masses would praise Him one day and call for His death the next.

He did not flinch nor turn away nor back up. He fulfilled His promise to the very end.

Sometimes we lose our focus and we let the world beat us up. We lose sight of Jesus and who He is and who He wants to be in our lives.

In one Peanuts cartoon Lucy says to Charlie Brown: “Sometimes, I feel we are not communicating. You, Charlie Brown, are a foul ball in the line drive of life. You’re often in the shadow of your own goal post. You’re a miscue. You’re 3 putts on the 18th green. You are a 7-10 split in the 10th frame. You’re a dropped rod and reel in the lake of life. You’re a missed free throw. You’re a shanked 9-iron, a called 3rd strike, a bug on the windshield of life! Do you understand me have I made myself clear?

I want Tevis to come and finish this sermon today and tell us how we can experience the presence of God over the next forty days as we move toward the Holy Season of Easter.

Tevis:

It was during this time on the mountain that God spoke and affirmed who Jesus was.  He was the son of God.  So often I think we need affirmation.  To understand that as Christ followers we are sons and daughters of God and what that means.

Optional Illustration:  scuba diving or is it on the test? Or illustration about truck, or is this going to be on the test

Illustration:  I have been taking a community leadership class through the chamber of commerce that meets once a month.  This past Thursday we spent part of our morning at the court house.  A couple of the judges there spoke with us.  Judge Hoover who deals with many of the teen issues, told a story about a kid who had a single mom.  His mom really was striving to be a good mom.  But she was working, trying to keep a job and take care of her son and his siblings.  But this kid stole from meijers and ended up in court.  He had to serve in the community.  They assigned him to work around the courthouse.  The kid had a supervisor who started spending time with him.  Made sure he was completing his work, but took time for this kid.  The kid completed his work, and returned home.  In a very short time, he once again stole from meijers.  Why?  Because he was seeking someone to build into his life.  He was seeking affirmation that he wasn’t able to get at home.  The judge directed him to big brothers/big sisters, but pointed out that so many times kids just need other adults to come along side of them, to build into them, affirm them.  Parents need other adults to do this.

That is why I think it is so important for us to build into the lives of kids here.  But I think many times as Christ followers, we struggle.  We are tempted to go our own way.  We need to be encouraged that we don’t have to make the wrong choice.  We are sons and daughters of God.  We live differently.  Sometimes we just need God to say, “You are my son.  You are my daughter.” 

Project Deeper is all about seeking a deeper connection to God.  It is about getting closer to God and experiencing his presence, being empowered with purpose, and being encouraged to live differently because of who we are and whose we are.  But most of the time we aren’t willing to make the effort to go deeper. 

I taught a class at MVNU in the fall, and inevitably I have a student ask:  Is this going to be on a test?   That in essence is asking:  What is the minimum that I can do to get by?

If you are serious about going deeper with God, it takes some effort.  And you have to be intentional about that or it doesn’t happen.  You have to be Intentional about really seeking God.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.  It marks the beginning of what we refer to as the Lenten season – the Lenten challenge.  It marks a 40 day journey to be intentional about drawing closer to God and His Son, Jesus.  Each Sunday during Lent becomes a little Easter where we continually celebrate the resurrection leading up to Easter Sunday, but it is during these 40 days, during the week, when you become intentional individually and as a family to go deeper with God.

Lent is a tradition that started during the very earliest days of the Church.  It was during this time that new Christians were taught what it means to follow Christ.  They were taught the basics of Christianity and there season of lent would end with their baptism on Easter Sunday.  The baptism was a time to say to their family and friends:  I have chosen to follow Christ. Because of Christ, I am forgiven.  Because of Christ, I am washed and have a new start.  I am a new person.  Baptism was an outward sign of what Jesus does for us on the inside.

Lent is not about lending someone something, making soup, or gathering lint. In fact, if you have a lot of belly button lint, you probably need washed.  The 40 days reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism as he prepared for his ministry.  Lent becomes a time for you to prepare yourself – a time to go deeper with God. 

We do this through prayer, penance = time of confession, and doing something to focus on Christ, the cross, and what God has done for you.   It is a time of sacrifice and self-denial.

Examples on Handout:
• Time to give up something - Fasting – not really about starvation or dehydration.  It is about giving up something that is important to you or something that may control you.  (food, television, computer, computer games, whining, arguing, pop, coffee, etc.)
• Involves Taking on Something – prayer, journaling, Bible reading, acts of service – focus on serving together.
• Serving – The Flame listed organizations = serve or give, serving in ministry together
• Giving – saving money or buying food/clothes and giving to help someone or an organization.
• Family focused time = together as a family share in doing something together to go deeper.

Handout:

• Fasting—fasting during Lent has always been a popular religious practice. Some ideas include:

o Fast from fast food

o Fast from TV at least one day a week

o Fast electronic games at least one day a week

o Fast from your computer and spend time with your family instead.

o Fast from buying anything that is unnecessary during Lent

o Fast from bad habits that need to be changed/given up

o Fast from whining, arguing, or not listening

o Fast from sugar at least one day a week

• Simple Meal—plan a simple meal around tortillas and beans.  Let everyone at your table share an idea for helping hungry people or how you can serve as a family.  Ask God to help you carry out one of these ideas.  Read I Timothy 6:18-19.

• Schedule a Family Night—plan time together and enrich your family life.  As you plan, think about conversation starters, activities/games, and snacks and even choose a theme for your night together.

• Compliments—give 3 compliments a day to your spouse, children, friends, co-workers, etc.

• Calendars—remove something from your calendar and spend that time in prayer or with your family.

• Bible – be intentional to read scripture as a family each day.

• Acts of Service – develop a list of ways to serve your neighbors or ways to serve in the community, and schedule time to carry out some of these acts of service.

*Kids booklet available.

We will have some other resources available on Wednesday – a couple of things for kids, a booklet for adults.   

We have called this Project Deeper:  The Lenten Challenge.  We have set up some stations:  

• Crosses – if you choose to go deeper with God over the next 40 days, to take your relationship with God to a new level, we are going to work as a family to take our relationship with God to a new level, then during the song we want to invite you to come and take a cross:  symbolizing I am going to take up my cross and focus on a deeper connection with God and how He wants to transform me.

• Bowl:  you will also notice a bowl at each station.   A place for you to give.  You can give your offering as part of your worship.   Part of a commitment to give.  

• Bowl:  place for you to place your RSVP card committing to come this Ash Wednesday.

I am going to pray and then following the prayer we will have a time for you to respond. 

Prayer:

As the music plays, a video of words and images depicting ways in which we can participate in the practice picking up our cross.  During this time we are asking everyone who wants to come and pick up a cross from the front.

As you pick up the cross, you spend time reflecting on what you might do during Lent. 



2009/02/22