V-MAIL TO THE FRONTLINE
Many people know that alters in the church are a familiar part of the “furniture” of the sanctuary as much as the pulpit, pews and baptismal. In our church we use the steps and edge of the stage and I praise Jesus they are used each service. I hope we never develop such a familiarity with alters that we forget why God is calling us to “live” on them. The physical structure itself is just a symbol that represents a consecrated “meeting” place with God. Those who have a serious personal relationship with the Lord have learned that staying on His alter is walking in His Spirit – and the only way to live the abundant victorious life.
We all need to spend more time before the Lord. Ministers of God’s word and all who care about the souls of others are praying the hearers will respond to God’s message and with the conviction of the Holy Spirit will deal with what God is saying to them. When I lead worship or teach the word I trust that God’s power is touching lives. It is a blessing to see people being stirred by God and then have the courage and faith to find their way to an alter. Yes, hands can be laid and words and prayers can be spoken over those hurting and seeking but there is no substitute for the “one on one” intimacy of an individual bowing before God. God knocks but we must open the door.
Alters Can be traced to the beginning of civilization as places of sacrifice along with the concept of pledging allegiance to the one you trust with your soul. So how does the modern prayer alter in the church connect with the Old and New Testament references to alters? The first thing is obvious with both of them; it represents death. We know that alters were used in the Old Testament as a place where blood was shed to cover sin and where animal sacrifices and incense were burned. Our mind thinks of blood drenched boulders or burning coals of fire which can bring intimidation but again these images are an external illustration of the internal work where Jesus changes who we are. In the book of Exodus we see a treasure of spiritual blueprints and mysteries that explain God’s design of salvation. Understanding our faith recognizes the cross is not only the foundation of our righteousness but a “divine” predestined alter that held the ultimate sacrifice of all eternity.
Let us be clear in our presentation of the gospel to the lost; God does not desire to kill us or burn our fleshly bodies but He is dead serious about transforming our spirit, mind, heart and conscience. He knows the only way any of His children can walk in His power and under the control of His Spirit is to cast down the authority and influence of our old nature. Alters can be a place where we crawl into Father’s lap and rest our head on His shoulder. A place of trust and security, where we can pour out our problems, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, seek God’s face, listen for His answers and feel His presence. It’s not that we couldn’t do the same thing sitting in the woods or walking on the beach, but in church it is a special place we can use to intimately connect with Him. How awesome it is to worship the Lord around the alter. We fall on them as a way of sincerely bowing before God, we cry and seek God’s face and we praise, shout and dance around them. We kneel at them because we know we desperately need Him to help us live the Christian life. It is a place of surrender, a place where we bring serious concerns to the one who made us. It is a place where we pray and petition God, a place where we intercede and stand in the gap for the burdens of our heart. “He that dwells in the “secret place” of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust” Psalm 91:1-2
Sadly many churches have become too proud to bend their knees and have removed the alters to become more dignified. Some of the modern organizations see Christianity as a bloody and dirty gospel and are unfortunately falling away from the foundational truths of redemption. The “new age” religions avoid the alters of sincere meditation in exchange for watching videos about political world events and human philosophy. Technology can help the church but can also distract the masses from Jesus with entertainment and the “feel good” stories that compromise truth. May we stay focused on Christ and never eliminate the need to constantly examine our heart and turn away from sin. Yes, it is uncomfortable to deal with our personal issues and take the bold stand to not allow our flesh to lead us but – our life depends on it! Many Christians have become way too relaxed with their daily sins and are deceived to think they can slide by with a lukewarm religious attitude. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” Romans 12:1-2
Do you ever lie on the bed or on the floor and stretch out before God as an act of submission and reverence? An alter represents a place of our weakness – but a portal to His infinite power. The word prostrate means to, “cast oneself down in humility or adoration, to lay flat on the ground as an act of submission, worship and humility, to be reduced to a helpless condition, a state of coming to an end or exhaustion.” In this we see that God wants us to realize we cannot “fix” ourselves or anything in our own strength and reminds us not to “lean” on our own understanding but on His everlasting arms. He wants us to stop trying to act self sufficient and to allow Him to live HIS life through us. His perfect way is for us to trade our strength and ideas for His strength and ideas. When we lay down our will and ONLY obey His voice – we will become the “vessel” of honor that God can be poured through.
The whole idea of us fighting against our flesh is referring to our old nature not wanting to stay on God’s “fire pit.” “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Just because a sacrifice is lying on the coals does not mean they stop talking and complaining as the battle never ceases in our mind between our spirit and body about who is in control. We all go through the same emotional roller coasters in our everyday encounters and have the same opportunities to have our private “heart to heart” talks with God, but it is OUR responsibility to make sure our carnality stays on the intense heat so that it can be completely consumed. Remember the song, “Refiners fire – my hearts one desire – is to be holy – set apart for you Lord – ready to do your will.” The refiner’s fire burns away all of the filth and trash of our corrupt, selfish identity, leaving only the clean and pure sparkling gold identity and character of Christ.
Everyone agrees how the “normal” Christian life should be constantly evolving. We start out as a sculptor’s block or a potter’s raw lump of clay and very patiently, Jesus the “Master artist” intervenes each day trying to mold us. He has a vision of what we are supposed to be and does as much as He can to develop His purpose – as we ALLOW Him. If we were an inanimate object it would be so easy to create us and admire us but what hinders our progress is that we have a “built in” will and freedom of thought with the ability to live how we choose. If we obtain the revelation of how life is supposed to function, we can surrender our will and He can move forward with his creativity. But if we are stubbornly determined to live the way we want – our destiny may remain unfinished and the “author and finisher” will be very disappointed. This journey of becoming spiritually mature includes a constant awareness of the reality of “yielding” because it is the only way we will ever be transformed into His image. The alter is God’s workbench where He cuts, grinds and polishes us until He is satisfied.
Another perception of being “altered” is when we remove material or hem a garment in the world of clothing as it is considered as an act of “altering.” Alter means that something has been modified and is now no longer the way it was. Think about the word “repent” for a minute. It does not necessarily mean to cry or fall on our face or roll around on the ground. We may do all these things in the process but the real meaning is to “convert” who we were – into something new. “Turning” to God implies that we stop going away from God and start moving toward Him which is what the gospel, the church and our Christian faith teaches. Our worship songs and the sacraments contain the invitation to personally examine ourselves from the “inside out” and that is where the real alter is! Every sermon should include the invitation to come to Jesus and take care of any spiritual “business” that is needed. Our entire church service should always point to JESUS as HE is the meaning of life. In Joel chapter 2, verse 17 we read, “Let the priest, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the alter, and let them say, spare thy people O Lord, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, where is their God?” The priests would come from the porch of the temple to go to the alter and in between this area they were being reminded by the prophet to intercede and weep before the Lord on behalf of the sins of the people. Joel was preaching and compelling the priest to blow trumpets and to call a solemn assembly. He wanted them to sanctify a fast and bring the elders together and for everyone to fall before the Lord and repent. And NOW God is calling His people to wake up, rise up and do the same! Humility is an awareness that we are laying, walking, talking, thinking and abiding on God’s alter of holiness. Lord may our alters not just be pieces of ornate decoration. May our conscience not become calloused but broken with the burdens for souls. Oh God may the alter of our heart stay wet with our tears of love for you and your people, amen.