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In 1515, Michelangelo completed a marble sculpture of an old but muscular Moses with the Ten Commandments under his arm. Tourists are often shocked to see what appear to be devilish horns protruding from Moses' head.

The horns are traced to a mistranslation of Exodus 34. After Moses met with the Lord on Sinai, the people were afraid because "the skin of his face shone." The Hebrew word for beam of light was mistranslated into Latin as "horns." So when Michelangelo read his Bible, he believed the people were frightened because Moses had grown horns while with God.

Today we no longer depict Moses with horns, but a misunderstanding of his mountaintop experience remains. According to 2 Corinthians 3, Moses did not hide his face because the people were frightened, but to hide the fact that the glory of God was fading. Whatever transformation he experienced in God's presence was temporary, and the veil hid its transient nature. Moses' mountaintop experience was genuine, glorious, and full of God's presence—but it did not bring lasting transformation.

In our consumer culture, we've come to believe that transformation comes through external experiences. We regard our church buildings, with their multimedia equipment, as mountaintops where God's glory is encountered. And many of us leave on Sunday with a degree of genuine transformation. We have indeed encountered God.

The problem with mountaintop experiences, as Moses discovered, is that the transformation does not last. In a few days, or maybe as early as lunchtime, the glory begins to fade. The event we were certain would change our lives forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of lasting transformation, we mask our lives behind a veil, a façade of piety or busyness, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This pursuit of transformation by consuming external experiences creates worship junkies who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that will not fade. In response, churches are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. But if lasting transformation is our goal, mountaintops—even God-ordained ones—will never suffice.

The New Testament emphasizes a different model of transformation. Instead of external experiences, Jesus and his apostles speak of communion with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Contrasting the fading glory Moses experienced on Sinai, the apostle Paul says that we are being transformed "from one degree of glory to another," and that this comes from the Spirit. This transformation is not from the outside working in, but from the inside working out. To encounter the glory of God no longer requires ascending a mountain, but learning to embrace a divine mystery, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Why then are we so tempted to abandon the New Covenant, inside-out model of transformation for the inferior ...

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Skye Jethani is the executive editor of Leadership Journal, an ordained pastor, and the author of numerous books. He co-hosts the weekly Phil Vischer Podcast and speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and colleges. He makes his home with his wife and three children in Wheaton, Illinois.

From Issue:Transformation, Summer 2012 | Posted: September 3, 2012

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Margaret N.

September 30, 2012  9:11am

I understand Skye's exhortation to church leaders (and attendees) who rely on "elaborate productions" and "multimedia" to move their parishioners to have some type of pseudo God-encounter. To use Skye's own language from his recent book, Moses was literally "with" God on this mountain and met Him there in a way few of us ever dream possible on earth. While the external light of glory faded, do we dare say that Moses was not forever transformed by this experience?! Is the light on his face the mark of "lasting transformation"?? Skye, are you not also looking to an external manifestation in this comment to prove internal transformation? I also don't think we can compare the very tangible encounter Moses had with God's presence to "church buildings and elaborate productions". Skye, please continue to exhort the church to real encounters with God himself but please don't imply that real encounter with God does not produce lasting transformation.

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James Awosina

September 12, 2012  11:58am

Excellent insight. The article really hit the target. We nned to get down to the basics and stop deceiving ourselves and others positing by our endless activities that we can create spiritual giants by them, without inculcating in believers the need for greater private communion with God in prayer and devotion. We must be honest to admit that we are left empty after a day or two of such ecstatic experiences. Many thanks Skye.

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