2.16.2018

Sermon: Coming Down From the Mountain on Transfiguration Sunday

Transfiguration by Alexandr Ivanov
This was a sermon given at Epiphany Church in Peoria, Illinois (www.epiphanypeoria.org), Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday before Lent. The readings were:
2 Kings 2.1-12
Psalm 50.1-6
2 Corinthians 4.3-6
Mark 9.2-9


_________________________________________________________________________________

Sometimes coming down from the mountain leads to the wilderness.
Sometimes Lent is our wilderness…
And sometime when we go out into the wilderness it ends up becoming our mountaintop.

I want you to think back to the most powerful spiritual experiences of your life. What were the circumstances? Where did they happen? Who were you with? How long ago did they happen? And perhaps most importantly, are you in any way striving to get back to those moments in your present life? If so, have you ever contemplated if "getting back" to them is even possible?

This message is about “mountaintop” spiritual experiences, how they form us, and the difficulty in learning how to live in the time after the mountaintop experience. The intent is to look back and reflect as a way of discerning how to live in the present. I want to tell you about my own mountaintop experience and then I want to tell you about having to come down from the mountain and what life was like after the mountain. My hope is you will see yourself reflected in my own journey.

Our Gospel reading from Mark, as well as the Old Testament reading from Second Kings recount profoundly moving spiritual experiences for the disciples Peter, James, and John, as well as the prophet-in-training and soon to be Head Prophet Elisha. Today is known as Transfiguration Sunday and it is the day Jesus calls us up the mountain with him. Jesus trusts us enough to call US, just us. He wants us to go UP and draw NEAR with him, for at the top there will be a great revelation. To Peter, James, and John the heavens were opened up and the glory of the Lord was revealed. 

This is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, before we change our posture as fellow disciples and we enter into Lent. And so this is the last epiphany we are given of Christ before our season of drawing back, giving up the things we think we need, and clinging to Christ as we look toward the cross.

If you are keeping track, up to this point in the season of Epiphany we have been led to a number of revelations showing Jesus as the Christ and Savior of the world:

—The wise men coming to worship Jesus, presenting him their gifts.
—The baptism of Jesus, the descending of the Holy Spirit, and the proclamation from God the Father of Jesus as his Son.
—The wedding at Cana with Jesus’ first miracle.
—Jesus’ authoritative teaching in the synagogue and his casting out of a demon tormenting a man.
—Finally, there is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as others who were healed and had demons cast out.

These are this year’s “epiphanies,” those moments when a glimpse of the fullness of who Jesus is was made manifest to us. Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, we have one of the biggest manifestations of all, one approved by no less than Moses and Elijah, the lawgiver and the prophet who themselves were exposed to God’s glory and were empowered to do great works by him. Reviewing the passage, it says:

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
And later the voice of God the Father again spoke: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Here, God very literally gives the disciples a “mountaintop experience,” one so core-rattling they hardly know how to respond. In recent sermons we've been challenged about people seeing Jesus in us and people being drawn to Jesus through our lives, that people are actually “amazed” when they are around us, as individuals and as a community. I want to argue that people start seeing Jesus in us and are drawn to the power of God through our lives when we’ve had a mountaintop experience, when we’ve gone off, spent time with Jesus, and have come back to tell people about it, with our countenance changed.

Growing up, I went to a mountaintop experience church. We were Pentecostal or Charismatic. My youth was filled with numerous powerful times of prayer and worship. Long times of prayer were emphasized, where we would walk and pace back and forth for an hour, interceding before God about various people and situations, and praying in the Spirit as we felt led. We prayed in tongues, as a “personal prayer language,” and we often prayed for healing and deliverance from sin. In worship or at youth group we would often had extended times of worshipping God in song. We would sing in the Spirit and dwell in God’s presence. People would come forward to the “altar” at the front and kneel down. Often there were prayer ministers who could pray for your needs, lay hands on you, and seek God on your behalf. These times of prayer and worship profoundly shaped who I am. They were my “mountaintop” and my youth was filled with them.

As a bit of an aside, I had a rare youth group experience that was completely caught up in trendy Christian youth culture but at the same time was also pretty solid. I know many people come out of their youth groups with a lot of criticisms: their youth pastors and leaders were shallow and too worried about their image, they focused too heavily on shaming us about sin, or they manipulated them and their peers into spiritual ecstatics. But growing up my church was a mixture of it all. I had a cutting edge youth pastor. He was the coolest of the cool. He dressed with the latest trends, he was physically fit, and he even partially dyed his hair blond. Heck, my youth pastor not only led our worship band, he was actually the lead singer in his own Christian rock band. For a few years our youth group exploded. We got to be so big we had to rent a banquet facility and a huge sound system every week to keep up with the momentum of 300, 400, and sometimes 500 kids coming every week. Our youth group got to be so big some people labeled us a cult that was brainwashing kids. 

There were times when I felt our pastor was too caught up in the flashy side of being a well known semi-public figure, and I would have truly been concerned were he not so solid. You see, the other side of the coin in all of this was that he was incredibly sincere in everything he did. He loved kids and wanted them to know God. He may have been a flashy worship leader, but he was passionate about inspiring people to pour their hearts out to God. On top of all this, he was an excellent teacher and preacher. He knew the Bible, gave us a great foundation of the basics, and was always educating himself and reading more about what was going on in the Church world. And even though he placed a lot of emphasis on renouncing sin, his approach was about pursuing holiness and not about guilting us. To our pastor, turning from sin was about living life in its fullness as an offering to God, and not about legalistic rule-following.  In other words, I couldn’t write off his shallow flashiness because it was mixed all this other good stuff. And it was all that good stuff that very powerfully changed my life.

What I am trying to explain to you is my youth was a mountaintop experience. It was an incubator season of life where I was discipled into studying the Bible, learning how to pray, and worshipping God with every part of my life. It was also the time where I began to feel the call to do full time ministry, leading people in music, teaching, and pastoring people. For me, it all started there on the mountaintop of my youth. It was filled with numerous Wednesday nights, mission trips, youth conferences, youth camps, prayers nights, True Love Waits Weekends, lock-ins, and hanging out with friends and mentors. It wasn’t all perfect of course. There was certainly a fair share of bad experiences and pain, but reflecting on that is for another time. My aim in all of this is to point out how necessary these experiences are. We need long stretches of drawing close to God and other people as a way of shaping us and building up our spiritual strength, because eventually God is going to call you to come back down the mountain. We can’t stay up there forever.

Up on the mountain, when Jesus was transfigured, Peter, in his stupefied bewilderment said to Jesus “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” When you are immersed in your mountaintop experience, the temptation is to always want to stay there, to capture it and preserve it. What we end up doing is minimizing it, taking a snapshot of it and putting it on our fridge or mantelpiece. Instead of living in the present and seeking God now, we live through the snapshot, through the past that we have frozen. Jesus calls us back down the mountain for there is work to be done. The mountaintop is necessary to be sure, but we were never meant to stay up there forever. To do so would be selfish and ironically self-limiting. We are called to come back down and bear witness to the Son of Man who has risen from the dead.

So far I have made it seem like my youth was one long mountaintop experience of spiritual euphoria, but now I want to tell you about my experience of coming down from the mountain. Throughout my youth and young adulthood I frequently came down from the mountain. In fact, a big emphasis was put on evangelization and serving others in my church. I spent my entire time in high school wanting to be a Sold Out On Fire Christian. I wanted my friends to know Jesus. I wanted them to see Jesus in my life and hear Jesus with the words I spoke. But I must say this: coming down from the mountain has in many ways been a tiring and disappointing experience. I tried to be a good evangelist, but I was never that successful. 

I have this distinct memory from high school, one of many, of me sitting in the hallway outside our band and choir rooms (which was also right where my locker was) after some rehearsal with a friend of mine. I was in choir and musicals and madrigal singers with her. She was a decently good friend, a girl I liked a lot, though never in a romantic way. Instead she had the kind of good-natured and goof personality I got along well with. I wanted her to like me and to see me as “normal”, even though I was a Christian. Well, as always I was attempting to take advantage of our time waiting around to go home to talk to her about God and Jesus and coming to church. She was kind to me, for the most part, but also entirely perplexed. I think I might have convinced her to come to youth group a couple of times, but that was about it. I had another friend, a girl, who was closer to her than I was, and did a better, and perhaps less creepy, job at inviting her to church. But I’m sure all my non-religious friend could think was “Why is this guy trying so hard to convince me of what he believes? Why doesn’t he just relax a little?”

You see, she thought all I was trying to do was force my beliefs on her and drag her to church and to get her to stop having fun, because, you know, fun = sin, and since sin has to stop, fun has to stop with it. I can totally understand why she would have seen me that way. And even though I’m sure my approach could have been a lot different, she was nonetheless wrong. It wasn’t about just getting her to church, or convincing her of what I believed. Instead, I wanted her to come up the mountain with me. I wanted her to come close and meet the living God, to know Jesus in all his radiance and love and power. But she didn’t want the mountain and she didn’t want what could be found at the top of it. I had come down from the mountain and was trying to tell her and others about it, but I kept finding it was nearly impossible to convince my friends of the reality to be found up there.
All of which is to say, a large part of my time after coming down from the mountain has been filled with disappointment. I have found that I am perhaps not the best evangelist, and I have found there are too many strings attached to the idea of going to church and finding God through religion for many people in our culture. Long term ministry work, or life in the valleys and plains below the mountain, is tough and disillusioning. But still the mountain calls…

I hope though that you see a significant problem with all my stories today: I keep talking about the mountaintop in my past. But is there a mountain to ascend in the present?

We are about ready to enter the season of Lent, where we are asked to consider giving up something we care about, something we have an appetite for, something that takes up our time, or something we feel we need. As we walk into this season together I would like us to consider two things:
1). Can we approach Lent like a mountaintop experience? Can we see it as being drawn out of the world to go be with Jesus in a secluded place where the glory of God will be revealed to us? Can we see this season as an abiding back, as a sabbath rest, where afterward we’ll return from seclusion (that is, come down from the mountain) and work from our rest, allowing God to bear fruit in our lives?
2.) Whether we are in Lent or not, can we always approach Sundays as a mountaintop experience, as a time of drawing close to God together, and having his presence revealed and made known to us, and then going back down the mountain to live the rest of the week knowing we have just been dwelling in the fullness of the glory of God?

So often we look to our past experiences as the model to what our mountaintops should be. As formative as they may have been, those experiences are in the past. God is calling us to himself today, in this season. The time has come to journey up the mountain with him.

One of my biggest frustrations about Lent is the focus on giving things up. I get frustrated at myself more than anything. I come up with my list of what to fast: Facebook, TV, certain foods or lots of foods, whatever it may be. But then, as I enter the fast and start giving those things up, they soon become all I can think about. I spend all my time thinking about how I can’t have those things and how the only way I can stop thinking of those things is for me to give up and get those things back. I say to myself: once I eat or log on to Facebook, then I won’t be tormented anymore. It’s a vicious, maddening, and stifling cycle.
I want Lent to be simpler than this. And I want Lent to have a better aim or end goal. Rather than focusing on the “giving up”, I instead want it to be about turning to Jesus, about looking to Jesus for everything, that he is all I need. To me, here is what Lent should be: It is about learning how to dwell on the mountain with God, so that we can then take the mountaintop down with us to the rest of the world. We don’t fast to deprive ourselves. We fast so we can truly see God and allow the world to see God through us.

So as we enter Lent may we pray for those who do not know Christ like my friend from high school, that they would come to him, and may we pray that we ourselves would know Christ in fullness, as the reading today said, from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4.3-6

It pains me to think these verses apply to my friend who did not come up the mountain with me. I do not want them to be true, but I know that they are. The Good News of Jesus is veiled to her. But the prayer persists: may the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shine in her heart, in all of our hearts. May we know the living God, and may the world know him too.

As we enter into Lent, let this be our prayer…

OTHER SERMONS:
Come to his marvelous light: a sermon for the Feast of Epiphany
The Rhythm is Gonna Get You: Word & Table
Rhythms in the Liturgy: Word & Deed
Speaking the Truth in Love
Plunge into the glorious mystery: a sermon for Trinity Sunday
Taking a pilgrimage to the wounds of Christ with doubting Thomas
Reflections on the Death of Moses
Come to his marvelous light: a sermon for the Epiphany
We have a problem with authority: A sermon for Christ the King Sunday


2.01.2018

Ep 60: A Discussion on Nathan Peterson's Song "Is It A Sin?"


Nathan Peterson returns to the podcast for an in depth discussion of his recent song "Is It a Sin?", which was inspired by a recent PostConsumer article on the song. It's not so much an interview as it is a conversation about the song and how we respond to art that challenges us and perhaps even offends us. This is honestly one of the more interesting episodes of the podcast that I have done. There's a rawness and emotional immediacy to our conversation worth listening in on.

Please check out www.nathanpeterson.net or https://nathanpeterson.bandcamp.com/merch 
for Nathan's music, writings, and new vinyl release.
 
 You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.

Related Episodes and Articles
Ep 55: Singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson
Ep 59: Jeremy Casella's New Album and Kickstarter Campaign
Ep 56: Andrew Osenga

Ep 55: Singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson

1.24.2018

Best Memes of the Year: Part 1


There is no guarantee I will continue to do this...but about a year ago I began collecting memes....

Memes, for me, are a constant source of enjoyment. They are this age's most efficient (and compact) form of satire and socio-cultural critique. They can also simply be incredibly silly fun. 

Meme's are like a multi-layered single-panel comic. Take one of the pillars of meme culture, the Condescending Willy Wonka, as an example:

1.19.2018

Ep 59: Jeremy Casella's New Album and Kickstarter Campaign


Jeremy Casella is a singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee. He has released four albums over the years and is currently putting on a Kickstarter campaign to fund his fifth album Spirit. Jeremy is an artist I've had the privilege to get to know over the years after meeting him at a Caedmon's Call concert in 2004. Episode 59 features two interviews with him, one from 2014 done right before a house show he did after the release of his album Death in Reverse and the other done this past week on the phone as his kids were home from school in a series of perpetual snow days. Finally, this episode also contains a brief interview (and update) with artist Nathan Peterson, who was on the podcast last fall, where I speak to him about the vinyl release of his EP So Am I. You can stream the episode below.

Other links:
Support Jeremy's new album Spirit on Kickstarter
His website:
https://www.jeremycasella.com/
Or 
Purchase his music

Listen to Nathan's Peterson's music and order his So Am I EP on vinyl


 You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.

Related Episodes and Articles
Ep 57: Dave Trout of UTR Media
Ep 56: Andrew Osenga
Andrew Greer Interview and a Recap of Escape to the Lake
Jimmy Abegg Interview
Why I Cringe Everytime Someone Says "I Hate Christian Music"
Ep 55: Singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson
Ep 53: The Mosleys—Husband and Wife Duo
Episode 52: Fernando Ortega's The Crucifixion of Jesus
Episode 50: Stu G on the Beatitudes Project

1.10.2018

What do you do with art you "disagree" with or that offends you?


My friend Nathan Peterson released a new single a couple of months ago called "Is It a Sin?"  

It's a song I haven't quite known what to do with, both personally and as someone who makes an effort to promote music and art.

Since I am on his promotional street team I got an early link to the song and decided to give it an immediate listen. I knew what was coming because he had told me what the song was about, but...after listening to it once I couldn't bring myself to listen to it anymore. It was too painful, too jarring, and too...well the only word I could think of was "offensive."

Nathan is my friend and he's an artist I've supported for a number of years now. I've interviewed him on my podcast twice and he and his wife even put on a concert in our home, but this new song just wasn't something I could allow myself to promote. 

In the very first lines he sings:
"Is it a sin to want to choke the life
Out of the lungs of Jesus Christ"?

10.29.2017

Ep 58: What Are Christians To Do With Halloween? A conversation with pastor and author Kevin Wright

Kevin Wright is the pastor of First Covenant Church in Peoria Illinois and is also author of The Danse trilogy, a series of horror/mystery novels. If you are thinking that is a strange combination you'd be right, but it is also makes Kevin the perfect conversation partner surrounding the issue of what Christians are supposed to do with the holiday of Halloween. Get ready for a complex and "nuanced" (to use a word that came up a few times) discussion on All Hallow's Eve, All Saints Day, Harvest Festival, and Samhain.

You can purchase Wright's books or find out more info at: 

www.KevinWrightBooks.com
www.facebook.com/kevin.wright.author
http://www.firstcovenant.net/




 You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.

Also, a couple of articles on Halloween were referenced in the interview, which you can find here:
Concerning Halloween
What Are the Origins of all Saints Day and Are They Pagan?

Related Podcast Episodes and Articles:

10.05.2017

Ep 57: Does Christian Music Need a Savior? UTR Media's Dave Trout Thinks So

Dave Trout is an industrious guy. He's the kind of person I understand. He has big dreams and big plans for his company UTR Media. The thing is, Dave's field of expertise is a niche interest, in his case "Christian music" or CCM. In other words, Dave Trout is a Christian music nerd. But that's OK, he is in safe company here at PostConsumer Reports.

Ep 57 of the PCR Podcast features my conversation with Dave about his re-launch of UTR Media, which has already started with 5 new podcasts and looks to continue with live concerts, videos, interviews, and articles featuring independent music by Christian artists. 

Music industry has changed significantly in the past 15 or so years, changes which have forced the CCM industry to become an increasingly small pond consisting of increasingly unvaried lifeforms. With UTR Media Dave is hoping to stir things up, to explode the pond even into a lake or a river....anyway, enough with metaphors.... Dave is just as disgusted and unsatisfied as you are with the sounds of Christian radio and his hope is to provide a place where great music can be heard and incredible artists can be discovered. Check out the interview below, their new promo video, and all their new podcasts on whatever podcasting app you use the most.
http://utrmedia.org/
You can read my profile on UTR's annual Escape to the Lake Music Festival here.


 You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.


Related Episodes and Articles
Ep 56: Andrew Osenga
Andrew Greer Interview and a Recap of Escape to the Lake
Jimmy Abegg Interview
Why I Cringe Everytime Someone Says "I Hate Christian Music"
Ep 55: Singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson
Ep 53: The Mosleys—Husband and Wife Duo
Episode 52: Fernando Ortega's The Crucifixion of Jesus
Episode 50: Stu G on the Beatitudes Project




9.28.2017

Ep 56: Andrew Osenga—musician, producer, consultant, podcaster


Andrew Osenga is a veteran musician, artist, and producer. Lead singer and founding member of The Normals, Osenga also had a stint as the lead guitarist and vocalist for Caedmon's Call, and continues to record and tour with Andrew Peterson's band. He is the kind of songwriter that can lay your soul bare, while also injecting a killer riff to stick in your head. Lately Osenga has morphed into an artist mentor and consultant, as well as a podcaster with The Pivot, which focuses on interviews with people who find themselves changing direction mid-career and doing something they never expected to be doing. I was able to sit down with Osenga before the Rich Mullins Window Rock Tribute concert and couple of weeks ago. A week later, Osenga found himself playing in Andrew Peterson's A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band tribute concert at the Ryman in Nashville. You can discover his music, his podcast, and everything else he does at:
http://www.andrewosenga.com/




You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.


Related Episodes and Articles
Ep 55: Singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson
Ep 53: The Mosleys—Husband and Wife Duo
PROFILE: UTR Media's Escape to the Lake Music Festival
Episode 52: Fernando Ortega's The Crucifixion of Jesus
Episode 50: Stu G on the Beatitudes Project



9.22.2017

Podcast Archive: Nathan Peterson from 2014—Part 2

An "archive" episode of the podcast, this is part 2 of my 2014 interview with Nathan Peterson. Nathan is a singer-songwriter from Peoria, Illinois who recently got a vinyl release of his new EP So Am I funded on Kickstarter. This part of our interview features a fascinating story about how he lost his voice (which is his livelihood!) and what he chose to do about it. You can find out more of his story, listen to his music, and purchase his book of the same name as the EP here:
http://nathanpeterson.net/
https://nathanpeterson.bandcamp.com/


You can stream the episode above, subscribe to the podcast on itunes or
Check out the podcast page to subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, Tunein, and PocketCasts.

Here is part 1 of our interview:


Related Episodes and Articles
Ep 53: The Mosleys—Husband and Wife Duo
PROFILE: UTR Media's Escape to the Lake Music Festival
Episode 52: Fernando Ortega's The Crucifixion of Jesus
Episode 50: Stu G on the Beatitudes Project