My backyard gaze is telling me that soon those willow buds will break out of seeming never-ending dormancy, springing forth another season of growth and renewal. My heart is excited as I am well past our introduction to our rewarding Hebrews study, although I'm having a hard time getting my head past the depth of the second verse of Chapter 1.
1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son". (Hebrews 1)
Are you letting him speak to you? Are you building altars throughout your life to remember Him by?
The Altar, A Place Of Commitment
On July 27, 1991 during a simple ceremony in an old rented Port Credit, Ontario stone church with beautiful stained glass windows, I slipped a tiny, elegant diamond ring on my bride’s hand. As the minister (my dad) united Andrea and I in marriage, a few friends and family looked on. Only her and I knew that the inside of our rings were engraved with "1 John 4:19"; "...we love because He first loved us", acknowledging God in our union. As we made our promises that day before God, etched forever in my memory is the way Andrea looked at me, her big bright eyes beaming through tears, and silently mouthed the words, “It’s happening”. My long search for a “Significant Other” was finally concluding before that very altar.
What we said at that altar by reciting our vows publically and before God, was that at this altar we are committing ourselves to each other, forsaking all others. An altar is a place of commitment. God's plan for marriage is commitment. The two shall become one, for life! He doesn't ever want the fire to go out; He wants it continually nourished and burning brightly!
As the ceremony concluded, I stepped back from the altar looking forward to what was ahead. Believe me, my life has never been quite the same! I made a decision before God and it changed my life. But something in my life had to ...DIE! My old life and way of living changed; I could no longer be out with some of the girls I used to see. That part of me died when I committed to Andrea, and I took on new life! An altar is a place of commitment!
The Altar, A Place Of Sweet Aroma!
God's priestly instruction as Israel camped at Mt. Sinai, was that when they offered a burnt offering on God's altar, that He didn't ever want the fire to go out! (Lev. 6:12). The priests were instructed to keep the fire burning! A continual sweet aroma filled the temple as sacrifices were burnt as a memorial, as an honor to Jehovah God.
When Noah came out of the ark, the first thing he did was build an altar! God responded to Noah when this happened!
Genesis 8:20 - "18So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
20Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even thougha every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done."
Adam, Abraham and Others Built an Altar
The bible speaks of Abraham's faith and of how God honored Abraham with the now famous Abrahamic covenant. Abraham put his trust in God's faithfulness and built an altar to honor God. Do you suppose that God wanted to test Abram (later called Abraham); watching to see if "...the fire would go out?" Perhaps he did. But what Abram said was "I'm in this for the long haul - I'm going to trust you Lord for the fulfillment of your promise to me, no matter what comes".
The Family Home Altar, A Place Of Consecration
As we push back from our family supper table, we make our way to the family room and have our evening family altar. This has been our family norm now since not long after our marriage began. When our four children were small preschoolers we read them bible stories and taught them to pray. At times it was difficult, but we are so glad we persisted in establishing our family altar. Now they are in their teens and we read the Bible together and take turns to pray about all the needs in our family and sphere of influence. We now all look forward to this half hour together where we all contribute to this altar. When there are visitors, we invite them to join us. Having a family altar has been one of the most rewarding and special times we've spent together as a family. We renew our allegiance to Christ and worship Him together daily because we have a family altar in place. An altar is a place of family consecration!
Church and The Old Camp Meeting Altar!
What an exciting time it is to attend a summer Braeside Camp and listen to inspiring messages by gifted speakers from far and wide, in a refreshing country setting. Inevitably the focal point of the sermon is to renew, and revive our commitment to God. We most often end our service by being drawn to the "front", when given the altar call invitation for prayer and resolve, crying out to God for His intervention, strength, help and infilling of the Holy Spirit. New visitors to the altar arrive in the public altar setting, believing God for salvation. It is very much an altar of consecration. All my life the focal point of the sermon was to address a required life-change, which for a Pentecostal meant that it was to be dealt with "at the altar".
Altar's should be front and centre in the christian's experience. I am frequently saddened when this crucial aspect of our services are forgotten or left out.
Long Live the church altar!!! What we "say" at that altar publically and before God, was that at this altar we are consecrating ourselves anew to Christ and will allow Him to live His life through us, forsaking all other gods or distractions. There should never be an occasion to forget to have a public altar, excuse it away or be embarrassed about it! Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" ~ Romans 1:16. He doesn't ever want the fire to go out; He wants it continually nourished and burning brightly.
Paul's language in Romans 12 is that of an altar scene; a living sacrifice. 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. How awesome that we can learn to publicly offer to God our lives as living sacrifices.
A regular church service altar enables us to worship as a church family and keep the fire burning! Yes! ... to many in the public eye, Calvary can be considered offensive; that indeed is the nature of a cross! The Cross was offensive because it was the place of death. It was indeed very messy! However it is that death there which brings us new life. Anyone that comes to Christ must come by the way of the cross.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, "“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Jesus said, "You MUST be born again" (John 3:7)
Jesus said, "“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’.......COMPEL them to come in, so that my house will be full." (John 14)
There is a sense of urgency in an altar! Can you hear it in Jesus words? When I look at my thesaurus, the word "compel" is explained as: oblige, force, pressure, press, push, urge, bring about something. Wow! ...however you want to slice it, we have to be tuned into the urgency in the very words of Christ. Waiting or hoping for people to send us an emailed question probably wasn't exactly what He had in mind.
I was so encouraged to hear of the harvest time at an altar in two area churches this past Easter weekend. A friend has just mentioned to me of one altar call response, where the Easter story was again powerfully retold. Following the message, when the personal invitation to accept Christ came, over 300 responded eagerly under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and 300 souls entered the kingdom of heaven! Imagine that! Jesus STILL saves (Do you STILL Believe it?) and we all have to come by way of the cross, where the ground remains level ground for all.
Billy Graham reminded us often that "the people Jesus called, He called publically". His altar calls brought millions into the kingdom. We must embrace the altar, as the place in our private and public church life that keeps the fire burning brightly.
Men, BUILD an Altar!