Empty Altars

Empty Altars

Psalm 84:1-4 (NLT) How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises. 

Sitting at my desk, just outside the window, there is a flurry of activity. Positioned in the tree overhead are bird feeders. Little birds and squirrels look for the seeds that make the way to the ground below. Chirping wildly at the treasure found, they catch my attention throughout the day. They are provided for plentifully from those feeders high and out of sight so they build nests in the camellia trees and bushes. Without a care in life, they make their home within the shelter and sustenance of the homeowner.

As I prayed for my church yesterday, a thought came to me. Why are the altars of the church empty? Where did this idea come from? It has to be because it is the same people each week. Maybe if we invited more people the altar be full. Could it be that everyone in our church is saved? Is salvation why we come? I was perplexed as nothing I came up with settled my spirit. The altar is empty because I refuse to come. Whoa Nelly! When did this become about me, Lord? When I cry out for revival, but refuse to come. When I ask the Lord for help, healing or the like, yet will not change positions. When I desire change but rebuke discomfort or inconvenience. When did this become about me, the moment I cried out for more.

The image and idea of God’s Altar has changed over the years. It used to be an institution of the church but now it is not so clearly defined. Removed as not to offend or seem old-fashioned, I long to see the old benches come from their hiding place maybe then we would answer the call to worship again. The modern day church is choosy about their delivery of the Gospel. Careful not to offend by removing the cross, blatantly refusing to discuss the Blood of Christ as it is much too messy for our Sunday best.

What about the Name of Jesus? Is He mentioned in your place of worship? We are conditioned by the world even as Christians to limit our use of His Name, to pray secretly in closets, and be ashamed of the cross called to bear. Bound to our seats as not to show weakness, the Lord is pressing me today to leave it behind and head to the altar again. It’s not just for salvation. It is not just a place of rededication but restoration and complete redemption day by day.

People keep us from the altar. After all, don’t you wonder when someone comes, why they kneel there? Come on, we all do. The person thought to be strong, a teacher, a leader, or faithful member who serves each week, what happens when they kneel under the suspicion of glaring eyes meant to be praying but really only prying. I am guilty. There are times I just want to come forward and kneel in the Presence of God not feeling a need for anything only desiring to move in closer step in deeper and linger in His Presence. Why won’t I? I struggle every single day to be the person that God has created and called me to be. Do you? If so, the altar is our dwelling place. It is the very place that I belong. Lord, let me do my part to fill your altars again.

Psalm 26:6-7 (NLT) I wash my hands to declare my innocence. I come to your altar, O Lord, singing a song of thanksgiving and telling of all your wonders.

The Altar of God represents our innocence never condemnation. It is the place, as believers, that we declare His Grace is enough. As I come to the Lord in humble obedience and surrender my life to Him publicly, it is a public declaration of faith. It is the kind of proclamation that needs no words. My ability to be yielded to the Lord encourages others to do the same but truly it is for me first in my own life. I need to wash my hands. I need His Grace to wash over me and flood my soul. No matter how committed I am or hard I try – sin still finds its way into my life. Even if its been a good week or a great one, the Altar is where I can publicly thank the Lord for all that He has done privately in my life. It is an expression of faith that promotes inward change. Lord, fill the altar again.

What keeps us from this place? Pride. No other reason to not accept the invitation to come other than living a double life. You should still come. The Lord honors our willingness to kneel before Him to confess that we have blown it again. Let him without sin cast the first stone. It doesn’t matter what another living, breathing soul thinks about me. If I do not achieve right standing with God through His Son, Jesus, I lose my soul forever. Is pride really worth it? Apparently to some, pointing at myself.

Hebrews 13:15-16 (NLT) Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

The old form of the altar was a place of continual sacrifice focused solely on sin and retribution. Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for sin so now the altar changes a bit. It is a still a place of continual giving but now since the sacrifice is satisfied it becomes our offering to the Lord. We do not come to the altar to give God a sacrifice but to surrender our life as an offering. To avoid the altar completely is to say that there is nothing for which to praise the Lord. It means that I may have allegiance to other things especially that thing which keeps us stuck to our seat.

Psalm 118:26-27 (NLT) Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, shining upon us. Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar.

According to Psalm 51, the sacrifice that God desires is a broken spirit and repentant heart. Is this the life that I live? A repentant heart needs Jesus all of the time not just on Sunday and Wednesday. Jesus scolded Martha gently as she ignored His Presence to remain invested in her service, doing and work. Those things that would bring her glory rather than pointing to Jesus. She just got caught up in things. She had a to-do list laying on top of the Word pressing her heart.

Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords to the altar. We need to come to the altar again… and again. In the Book of Ezra, it talks about the rebuilding of the altar of God. It had been prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (in chapter 25) that the Temple of God would be destroyed and God’s People would be exiled. Nebuchadnezzar would do just that. (2 Chronicles 36:17-21) It would sit in ruin for 70 years. Why was it destroyed? People refused to turn to back to the Lord. Warned over and over again, they decided to live in sin and betrayal against God. But there is a glimmer of hope arising in Ezra 3, even though the people were afraid they decided to rebuild the altar. When the altar was complete, the people turned to the Lord and began worshipping again. Immediately following the rebuilding of the altar, the people would go on to build the Temple of God again.

A commitment to rebuild the altars in our churches and one’s commitment to fill it all by their self if necessary will be the catalyst for revival and the very element that builds the Kingdom of God one final time before He comes.

Acts 17:22-31 (NLT) So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

We do not serve an unknown god but the only True, Living God. He sent His Son Jesus so that we could get to know Him intimately and personally. If we (or I) could just wrap my head around and commit my life to the fact that EVERYTHING concerning me is under the complete authority and power of the Living God because of Jesus Christ, I would never hesitate from falling before Him again. Before Jesus, people didn’t know God. But after Jesus the message is clear and concise and sent forth by His Spirit who gives us all understanding in exchange for ignorance.

The Word of God says plainly here in verse 25 that Jesus satisfies every need. Do you have a need today? Why won’t you come before the Lord? Anything that is not completely satisfying in our life can be surrendered to the Lord for fulfillment, if you are think it worthy of a journey into His Presence. Everything I need for a rich and satisfying life is found in total surrender at the Altar of My God. Jesus invites us to come and He will give us rest. (Matthew 11:27-29) Do have a burden? He will lift it from your shoulders so you don’t carry the weight alone…if you will come to the altar. Everything if only we believed enough to come.

In Matthew 14:27-30, Jesus is walking on the water in the midst of a violent storm. Peter says Lord let me come to you in verse 29 but by verse 30, he is going under fast. Faith in God is facilitated by our actions. If you don’t pursue the Lord with passion, our faith grows tired and weary surely we will sink. However, we find later after Peter failed the Lord multiple times and watched as He was beaten, tortured and crucified, back to his “normal” life. When he sees, Jesus walking on the beach. Peter didn’t ask to come or even want a miracle. He wanted Jesus and swam all the way to the Lord. Our desperation for the Lord and dedication to Him must be expressed in our actions. We cannot hide behind religiosity anymore thinking we have to portray the image of perfect people, pious Christians and professional servants but rather just desire Him more and more each day. What will it take to draw you back to the altar today?

Hebrews 4:16 (NLT) So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

I need Jesus all of the time. There is no time that I can remember since meeting Him that there wasn’t a longing deep within to find Him again and again. In Jeremiah 29:11, it talks about this plan that includes a future and hope. However, few people read beyond these words to the requirement. In verse 13, it says that we must seek the Lord wholeheartedly. With our entire being, all of our emotions, the long list of needs, wants and desires that motivate us, and in this simple act of surrender to the Will of God and submission to the Word of God our rebuilt altars will begin to expand the Kingdom of God. It begins with me. It begins with you!

Let us come boldly. It is the thought of confidence before the throne of the Gracious God that began this press for the altar. To step out of our comfort zones and cast off convenience to be where the Lord is that motivates me. I want to see a great revival rise up in our midst. I desire all the fruits God’s Spirit is trying to produce in me and through me. I want it all. I have to surrender it all to have it. I don’t know how I will respond to this new word etched on my very human heart today. I know what I want to do. I long to make my life a living sacrifice. I will do whatever it takes to fill the altar with those who worship in Spirit and Truth longing for more of Jesus. It may mean a journey or two or twelve or too many to count to kneel at His Altar, to shed real tears, to turn over more personal real estate to the Lord for His careful consideration and constant cultivation. What is keeping you from falling facedown before the Lord in front of people? I am challenged today to remove ever barrier between myself and the Altar of the Living God! Will you join me there?

Psalm 43:3-4 (NLT) Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!  

 

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