God’s Power and Families: Always vs. Never

Let’s open by looking at two passages:

15For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.

18And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. – Obadiah 1:15-18 (KJV)

And

18And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you:

19Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever. – Jeremiah 35:18-19 (KJV)

Here’s what is interesting about these two passages: in the first portion, God states his decision to end the existence of Esau’s family (Edomites). However, in the second portion, God promises that this man Jonadab will always have children to carry on his name.

So what we want to know is this: is there any application that we can glean from God’s decision to end a family, versus God’s decision to make sure a family never dies off? It’s not likely that our families will ever face such drastic extremes of God’s favor or wrath, but then again – who can tell? Our best bet as Christians today in search of God’s power is to do all that we can to be an “always” family, rather than tip toe dangerously close to becoming a “never” family.

So with that, today we will look at two types of families. They are:

  1. The Always family
  2. The Never family

1.  The Always Family

19Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me forever. – Jeremiah 35:18-19 (KJV)

We begin by considering the “Always” family. In Jeremiah 35, God tells Jeremiah to invite a family (the Rechabites) to church and offer them wine to drink. They refuse, because grandpa Jonadab made a rule that their family should never drink wine. God uses this as sermon material for Jeremiah for the people of Judah, and in the end blesses the Rechabite family for their obedience to their ancestor, Jonadab. And who does God hold accountable for the family? That’s right, the parents – particularly Dad.

Just an observation: without being judgmental, have you ever noticed a bitter person? They’re not hard to spot. Have you ever perceived that bitter people who refuse mercy and forgiveness have kids that don’t take them very seriously? If Mom or Dad is ticked off non-stop, the price they pay is this: deep down, their children don’t respect them.

When kids respect their parents, they are much more likely to obey. Parents: do you want your kids to respect you? Here’s how: quit being judgmental. Show some mercy. Have a little forgiveness, and teach it to your kids too. This will actually make you likable! And when you are likable, you become much more credible!

I have a hard time thinking the Rechabites believed their kids could do no wrong. I don’t think they thought that their kids were better than everyone else’s. I’m also confident that the Rechabites were very good neighbors, and extended hospitality to practically anyone at the drop of a hat. Every one of their kids had a free will to choose good or evil; but every one of their kids also had every advantage to live godly.

The worst sabotage that we as parents can inflict upon our children is to judge others, especially in front of our kids. It bothers God, and causes him to hold us to the ridiculous standard we hold other people to. Oh yeah – and it’s contrary to Scripture. If you want to be protective over your kids, make no quarter for judgmental attitudes. That’s what they need protection from.

A huge favor you can do your family is to be thoughtful of others in front of your kids. This teaches your kids to look outside of themselves and see others. Also, it will be detected by God – who doesn’t just cause us to reap bad consequences for sowing evil, but also richly blesses us for sowing kindness. If you want people to be patient with you, you better be patient with others. I don’t want what I deserve; I want God to be patient with me!

If I need to bite my tongue and force myself to be pleasant in order to have an Always family, I think I’m going to. If you get nothing else, get this: your treatment of others in front of your kids matters! Who else has a hunch that the Rechabites were an Always family that exercised control over their words and were kind in their actions?  What kind of control do you exercise over yourself in front of your kids?

2.  The Never Family

18And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. – Obadiah 1:15-18 (KJV)

The book of Obadiah is only one chapter long. Obadiah has two messages in his writing: Judah will be vindicated, and Edom will be destroyed.

Why would God destroy Edom? Well, in the book of Obadiah we find some grievances listed. The most interesting are these two: Edom refused Israel passage through their land, they oppressed Jerusalem with other heathen nations. What this boils down to is this: Edom refused Israel any and all brotherly kindness.

You’ll recall that Isaac’s wife Rebekah had twins: Esau and Jacob. They struggled against one another in her womb (Genesis 25:22), and rarely got along after being born.  Jacob, whose name later became Israel, was of course the patriarch of the nation of Israel and Esau was the father of the nation of Edom.

God’s anger seems to be particularly aroused by Edom’s lack of brotherhood toward Israel. I have one sibling, a brother. I can’t imagine treating him like trash and ever hope to be right with God. And within the New Testament church, God holds us accountable for our treatment of our Christian brethren.

Church members should prefer other church members. I can only speak for myself, but when I prefer someone, they tend to get more of my attention, more of my empathy, and more of my time. Granted, spending a lot of time around somebody is going to cause them to drive you a little crazy. But I have a sneaky feeling that God gets a nose full of Edomite stink when we’re not being the brethren we ought to be.

So here’s the point: just as Edom was guilty of treating their brethren, Israel very badly, we had better be very careful to treat our Christian brethren very well. If we don’t, there might not be much left after we are dead and gone to prove we were ever around. In other words, we run the risk of becoming a Never family, and Nobody missing us at all.

Here’s the admonition: don’t look around for examples of this –  it’s too easy to foster a judgmental attitude if we do.  Do this instead: be careful to not become one yourself. Is this one or that one a Never family? I don’t know, I’m not God. But be careful because a judgmental spirit is the first step to becoming a potential Never family.

Conclusion

So today we saw the differences between Always and Never families. Do you want an Always Family? If so, exercise the issues of mercy, forgiveness, and generosity before your kids both to church members, and to the lost. God will be greatly pleased, and will intentionally have much to do with your kids, starting with tugging at their heart strings to be saved.

How can you have a Never family? Make sure that you don’t extend any kindness to Christian brethren. Under no circumstances cut anyone (except your own) any slack whatsoever, and whatever you do, make darn sure that you never empathize or encourage anyone. If you do these things, you position yourself as the front-runner for America’s next Never family!

Amongst good Pharisees – I mean Baptists, we sure do think a lot of our kids, don’t we? Thanks God – I don’t know what I’d do if my kids were like the other kids in Sunday School. Thanks God – I sure am glad my family has standards… unlike Bro. So-and-so. I’m telling you one thing – if it weren’t for my kids, we wouldn’t have a shred of godliness in our young people! Oh yes, he’s going to be outstanding, he’s a PK, you know, Bro. Bignamepreacher’s boy! I know the Bible speaks against what she’s doing, but here’s why it doesn’t apply to my daughter: *insert line of baloney here*. The list goes on and on and God gets a little more fit to puke with every line of nonsense he hears.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. – Matthew 7:2 (KJV)

By forcing yourself to be thoughtful and gentle towards others, God deliberately and directly is thoughtful and gentle towards you and your children. If our kids stand any chance of getting saved and living for God in these wicked days, the most necessary thing in their lives will be that God deal with them. We as parents need to behave in such a way to cause God to want to do that and it can be accomplished through our treatment of others.

So the next time you feel the urge to back-stab a Christian brother in the privacy of your own home, on the ride to church, the ride home from church, or in confidence with another brother, remember those who will feel the full effect of the damage you are inflicting – your kids. Never behave in such a way to allow God’s power to be used to cause your family to be a Never family. Instead, always fight to live like a Christian and use God’s power to assist your family in becoming an Always Family.

Advertisements
Posted in What God Expects from Me | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The 2-Fold Nature of God’s Power

This, like many posts of The Servant’s Journal is for the saved in particular. Today we consider the two-fold nature of God’s power unleashed in the life of God’s children. Our primary text is the book of Nahum.

The book of Nahum comes just a few years before the city of Nineveh is overthrown. The Assyrian empire was notoriously vicious, wicked, and abominably cruel. Its iniquity filled the cup of God’s wrath, and there came a point where there was no turning back. God used Nahum to articulate that God’s wrath is coming – and at that point, nothing was going to stop it.

Keep in mind that it’s safe to assume that most of the people in Nineveh were not saved, so the judgment declared in Nahum was for lost people. But as we’ll see later, God may deal very harshly with his own people when they insist on being rebellious. Therefore we can say that God’s power is not only used to empower and deal with hearts, but his power is also exercised to fulfill judgment.

The two natures of God’s power that we will consider are:

  1. Making things worse
  2. Making things better

1.  Making Things Worse

Who can stand before his indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. – Nahum 1:6 (KJV)

Throughout history, God’s judgment has been poured out upon individuals as well as nations whose flagrant iniquity had spent all of God’s mercy toward them. God’s own people, Israel and Judah suffered terribly for their lack of regard for him.

So my question is this: what makes God’s people today any different than God’s people back then? I got a hunch that there is no difference at all in this respect: if we obey him, he’ll help us and be a lot more patient than we deserve; but if we disobey him, he’ll do whatever it takes to get our attention. And if he’s continually unable to get our attention, then it is almost certain that we will encounter the most terrible outcome imaginable.

We even see God’s power in the chastening of his children. This form of judgment is a sign that God loves us, and that we are his. There is a line in a song that goes like this, “I’d rather hurt then feel nothing at all”. And with God it’s the same way – if he didn’t take the time to straighten me out, that would likely indicate a much bigger problem – a lack of salvation in the first place!

We see this in the life of Saul. Let’s say Saul is saved. I’m not going to get into it here, but I believe he was. There came a point at which Samuel informed Saul that God’s found someone else to be king. Why? Because Saul refused to obey enough times to make God think that Saul insists on being rebellious for the rest of his life.

The night before his death, Saul sought out and engaged in cultic activity; the very next day, he committed suicide. And that very day his sons died as well. Saul’s end was tragic and shameful. Here’s why: he was adamant on being disobedient.

And just as God judged Saul, his power may be used to construct events in such a way to judge us for wickedness we won’t let go of. Let us take note that God’s power is used to not only help, but judge also!

2.  Making Things Better

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. – Nahum 1:7 (KJV)

This verse is immediately after the judgment verse above in Nahum 1. If there is any one thing that God’s children need more than anything nowadays to live victorious lives it’s this: God’s help. This is how God’s people are able to endure those fiery trials that test faith and make us more like him. It’s the only way we are able to love our enemies and bless them that curse us – just like Jesus did.

The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. – Psalm 121:8 (KJV)

Sometimes it looks like there is no way we are ever going to come out alive. David knew this, as his occupation for much of his life was to “go out” and “come in”. In other words, his job was to fight for Israel – a very high risk occupation.

But the one thing that David understood is that if God had a purpose for his life (which he did), and David was doing the best he could to fulfill that purpose (which he was), that God’s responsibility was to protect and enable him within that purpose.

God’s power is also used to convict hearts. This obviously makes things better, because not one person who’s ever been saved will tell you it made their lives worse – every person who has the earmarks of a saved person that I know will tell that God has only made their lives better, not worse.

That doesn’t mean that God’s children are bouncing off the walls every day with zeal and excitement. We know that’s not the case, because Christ even declared that following him will inevitably cost friends and family. What it does mean is that God’s power is available in our lives and in our churches to make things better. Better for us, and better for those who are affected by the power of God.

Conclusion

So to recap, we find that God’s power is available to make things worse (get our attention, or straight-up judgment), as well as make things better (protect, help, encourage, convict).

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? – Romans 7:24 (KJV)

Every saved person alive still deals with their sin nature. There is no way around it: if we’re going to live for God, we HAVE TO fight carnal urges. It’s not sin to be tempted, but it’s sin to allow that temptation to sink into our hearts and grow roots. When we do, it’s time to yank those weeds, and get that sin confessed.

When we sin, there are consequences. Some much less severe than others; we reap what we sow – both good and bad. But as far as our fellowship with God is concerned, that depends on us. He’ll always forgive us – he HAS to, based on 1 John 1:9.

But seeking forgiveness is up to us, and failure to do so for an extended period of time may prove disastrous. How far is too far? I have no earthly idea. That’s up to God. The best thing we can do is never have to find out. Stay as far from the tracks as possible, and we’ll never accidentally get blasted by a train.

I want to see God’s power like no other – but I want to see his power making things better, not making things worse. Which manifestation of power will see in our churches and in our lives is up to us; so which would you rather have? God making things better, or God making things worse? Remember that the more desirable is easier said than done. Choose wisely, friend.

Posted in What God Expects from Me | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Abraham’s Altars #5 – Your Altar

In the last four posts we looked at Abraham’s four altars that are recorded in Scripture. In this final post, we’ll consider the significance of altars in our lives.

We examined Abraham’s altars and their general functions as follows:

  1. Plains of Moreh – Thanksgiving
  2. Bethel – Repentance
  3. Mamre – Guidance
  4. Jehovah-jireh – Worship

Look around at the current state of the world economics, politics, and religion. If there’s anything we have in common with Abraham it’s this: we live in a vile and wicked world and it’s only getting worse. Abraham had to stand alone many times, just as you and I will have to. And while he may not have had many people friends, Abraham didn’t stand alone because everywhere he went he had an altar where he could access God. And that’s what we need if God’s going get the glory from our lives – a direct communication line with God.

Nothing in this world is more precious and necessary for God’s people than open communication with him. Sin hinders it, and holy living enhances it. Having an altar for reaching the Lord is something that Abraham understood, and it’s something we should understand today. Mark it well that God’s got some big plans for you if open communication with him trumps the importance of everything else.

And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. – Exodus 33:11 (KJV)

So as we investigate similarities between Bro. Abraham’s altar and our altars, let’s answer four questions:

  1. Who should use an altar?
  2. What happens on an altar?
  3. When to use an altar?
  4. Why use an altar?

1.  Who Needs an Altar?

Simple answer: all of the saved. Realistic answer: church members of a scriptural New Testament Church.

Here’s why: if a person is saved, the next step is baptism. After that, the person can only be useful to God within a scriptural New Testament Church. Like it, love it, hate it: it doesn’t matter, that’s the way the Bible calls it (see Romans 6:4-5, Col 2:1, Eph 1:22-23, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).

What this means: if a saved person refuses to get baptized, or be a church member, an altar won’t do them a lick of good. Why? Because they’re rebellious in the first place, by not following the Bible’s command to be a baptized church member. Once these issues are fixed, they’ll be in a place where they can be useful to God, and then they’ll want an altar as quick as they can find one!

Consider your life: who are you responsible for? Are you a single person, only responsible for you? That means you could be greatly helped by having a place where just you and God meet – your own altar. If others come to live with you and you are responsible for them, have an altar where you and they can meet with God – an altar in your home.

26And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?

27That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.  – Exodus 12:26-27 (KJV)

If you have a family, you’ll want to have a family altar. It could be as simple as a couch, a table, or whatever you want it to be. The main point is that when you call the family together to pray, they should all know what to do, and it’s even more convenient when they automatically know where to meet!

This accomplishes a ton of good all in one fell swoop: it serves as a time to teach your little ones HOW to pray, and it accomplishes meaningful prayer at the same time.  You can be sure that the Lord hears the prayers your kids while you teach them how to pray. Why? Because God’s got a stake in it – by answering your little ones’ prayers, he has a great chance to prove himself faithful to them at a young age, which could impact their salvation; use this to your advantage!

And then there’s the altar at your church. Us good Baptists often think that people who go to the altar after the sermon just had their sin stomped all over by the preacher, and they have to repent. While that may be the case (we’ve all been there), here’s something that will help you stay right with God: it’s not yours to judge. It’s a great idea to distance yourself as far as you can from trying to guess why they’re at the altar. When that judgmental thought flickers, turn it into a prayer for God to help them!

Abraham needed an altar and you need an altar; if you don’t already have one, it’s a great idea to get one. Use a personal altar or family altar starting now. And don’t be afraid to use that church altar either. If God tells you to go to the altar at church, who gives a rip what anyone thinks?

2.  What happens on an altar?

Let’s look at what happens at an altar; and by that, I mean let’s consider the kind of sacrifice Abraham was performing. Abraham’s method of altar sacrifice involved something being killed – something that had blood to spill. There are Levitical offerings that involve non-living entities, and those don’t fit with what I’m talking about here; but if Levitical sacrifice is on your brain, think about the burnt offering, that one works just fine.

What happens? On an altar, someone deliberately kills something. In other words, to appease the one to whom the offering is made, the offerER deliberately ends the life of something else. How does this apply to us?

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. – Romans 8:13 (KJV)

Paul exhorts us to cut the throat on the sin we have an appetite for. It’s not the same for everyone; in other words, what trips you up may not cause me any problem, and what I struggle with nonstop may be a non-issue to you. It’s different for everyone. But this much is the same for all of us: God want us to make a conscious choice to kill the influence of our sin nature, and in a humble heart, follow through with the act of bringing ourselves under control.

And when this happens at our altar, someone is appeased, and that someone is God. By slaying our sin and worldly desires, a sweet savor fills the nostrils of the Lord, and that’s when he’ll bless us with the most precious commodity available – himself!

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. – Genesis 15:1

God is pleased with the sacrifice when it’s exactly the way he wants it. He’s looking for you to kill and burn something: your lust, pride, and control over your life. Abraham had to know what to kill and he did. What happened on Abraham’s altar needs to happen on our altars too.

3.  When to use an altar?

29And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

30And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. – 1 Kings 18:28-30 (KJV)

When’s the best time to use your altar? I’ve heard some say that the best time to meet with God is first thing in the morning; before the worries and cares of your day come yelling in your ear, it’s good to get with God before that noise finds you. There’s a lot of merit to this line of thinking.

And then there are those who meet with God at night, and their reasoning is similar – everyone’s asleep, and the daytime’s spent. Being a night-owl, this is where I fit.

But of all the things said about the best time to meet with God, the most important is this: it needs to happen regularly. Everyday. The time of day doesn’t matter, it’s specific to the person. Just so it happens some time during the day.

It’s senseless to force rigid morning devotions on a 3rd-shift truck driver – a brother I know who fits this description would laugh at you. And it’s just as senseless for him to think everyone needs to meet with God at 6 in the evening like he could.

The advantage of having a regular altar is that it will help give a place to associate with a time of day, thus making your meetings with God more habitual. Studies have shown that if a person does something for 21 days, they’re on their way to developing a lifelong habit. Having a habitual time at a habitual altar will do wonders for your relationship with God.

God is interested in seeing faithfulness in his people over the long-term. And like any long-term project, the only way to tackle it (and succeed) is one step at a time, on a day-by-day basis. God would rather get the glory over the life of an individual than have the individual be a flash in the pan, do a lot of good and then never be heard from again.

Paul knew this, as he talks about spiritual maturity. To go from a babe in Christ to a teen (figuratively speaking), to spiritually mature requires long-term growth. No 8-month old ever had the body and capability of a 33 year-old man. It takes years to develop the normal life skills and abilities of a 33 year-old man. Imagine that – you greet a new coworker, offer a hand shake, and the only thing he says is, “goo goo gah gah” because he’s secretly only 8 months old. I’m laughing at how dumb of an example that is, so hopefully you get the point!

Abraham’s spirituality was developed over time. His regular use of an altar meant regular dealings with God. When should we use an altar? For best results, use daily.

4.  Why use an altar

Abraham wasn’t perfect, and he needed to confess his sins to the Lord. We’re no different, and when we mess up, we need to get it right with him. The longer we wait, the greater the danger in allowing things into our lives that could erupt into huge messes. Abraham had to eventually repent for his sin in Egypt, and at his altar at Bethel, he fixed things with God. When we mess up, let’s find God at an altar and fix things.

5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)

Sometimes the most important thing I can know is that I don’t know the first thing about what’s going on. In other words, by acknowledging a need for help, the next step becomes considering where it will come from.

What did Solomon want? He wanted wisdom, because the only thing he understood was that he needed a lot of help to do a good job judging and ruling over Israel. God’s dealings at Abraham’s altar at Mamre were generally guidance. And if there’s anything we need nowadays as things are getting worse and worse it’s heaven’s guidance. When we don’t know what to do, let’s get help at an altar.

Has God been good to you? It’s too easy to say yes, so let’s dig a little deeper: how has God been good to you? Even a shallow assessment of God’s benefits give a child of God a lot to be grateful for. At the plains of Moreh, Abraham built an altar. Based on the events of Abraham’s life just before that, (i.e., God making some huge promises), Abraham had a lot to be thankful for. Next time you’re at your altar, use it to lift up your thanks to the one who deserves all the thanks in the world.

And if God’s children get thankful, it won’t be long and the next thing they’ll be is smitten with his greatness. There’s no one else so worthy of all of our esteem and reverence as the Lord. Sometimes I like to sit down with a mandolin to sing and play before the Lord at my altar to delight in, think about, and adore his lovely name. When’s the last time you worshiped him at your altar?

Just like Abraham, we should use altars for repentance, guidance, thanksgiving, and worship. Because just like Abraham, we need to confess our sins, need God’s help in knowing what to do, have a lot to be thankful for, and should let the Lord know that we love him more than anything.

Conclusion

Today we asked the question, “who needs an altar”. We found that the answer to this question is every church member wanting to be close to God. Anyone with the capability of being useful to God (which is every church member) would be hugely benefited by having and using an altar.

What happens on an altar? Something dies. In other words, we’re killing something to please God. In our lives, we need to butcher our own inhibitions for the glory of Christ. By doing this, something is killed, and God is pleased by our sacrifice.

When to use the altar: it’s not tied to a better-or-best time of day, it’s tied to being used EVERY day. Only by regularly using our altar are we able to maintain that precious relationship with the Lord – the one we should want, and even more, the one he craves to have with us.

When considering why we should use an altar, consider handling a relationship with a good friend. When I’m wrong, I should apologize. Sometimes I need his advice, and other times I need to tell them thanks. And every now and then it’s good to throw an arm around him and tell him how glad I am to have him as a friend. It’s no different with God: our altars are good for repentance, guidance, thanksgiving, and worship.

By studying Abraham’s use of altars, we can apply a practice of one of the greatest heroes of the faith to our own lives. Just like Abraham, we can use an altar to communicate with God. Let’s never forget that it wasn’t Abraham that made Abraham great, but God that made Abraham great. So I leave you with this question: is using an altar for you?

Posted in Abraham's Altars (5-part series) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Abraham’s Altars #4 – Jehovah-jireh

Welcome back to the Servant’s Journal, today in our study of Abraham’s altars, we’ll consider Abraham’s 4th and final recorded altar, the altar at Jehovah-jireh. Keep in mind too, that this series will have one additional post after this one!

So far we’ve seen three general purposes for an altar in the life of Bro. Abraham: thanksgiving, confession, and personal guidance from God while pursuing his purpose. We’ve also looked at ways our altars can and should be used in similar ways to live a life worth living for the Lord.

The story of the Abraham upon Jehovah-jireh begins with God telling him to offer Isaac at a mountain in the land of Moriah. Geographically speaking, where exactly is this?

Here’s what we do know: Abraham is told to go to the land of Moriah to do this. Then in 2 Chronicles 3:1, Solomon builds the temple in mount Moriah, over a threshing floor. So a reasonable placement for Jehovah-jireh is the modern day Temple Mount, or thereabouts.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. – Genesis 22:2 (KJV)

Abraham takes two young men and Isaac to the land God told him to get to. They park the camels and Abraham takes Isaac yonder to sacrifice. Abraham builds that altar, binds Isaac, and prepares to kill him. Before he does, the angel of the Lord stops him, and reveals that the entire thing was a test of faith. They find a stuck ram, and offer him instead. Abraham again calls on the name of the Lord at this place, and God reminds him of the promises that are his, especially in light of how Abraham just proved who he loves the most.

There are three particular functions of this altar that we will examine:

  1. Worship
  2. Testing
  3. Obedience

1.  Worship

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. – Genesis 22:5 (KJV)

The intent of sacrifice upon an altar is worship. In other words, we’re giving something to God that he wants for the expressed purpose of glorifying and pleasing him.

The altar at the plains of Moreh was for thanksgiving, and they seem similar; how are they different? Here’s the answer: they are, but they’re not. (If I’m not careful I’ll confuse myself). Thanksgiving is a small part of the more comprehensive category of worship. It’s like this: my oldest daughter is part of my family, but she don’t constitute my entire family.

God desires our thanks, but he desires something else too, and that is praise – also a part of worship. Worship in general is easier done than said. (Easier to do than describe). So for assistance, let’s see what Dictionary.com has to say about worship:

– to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity; honor, adore, stand in awe of, fear

To have any of this requires something from you and me: a humble heart. God is greatly honored by a heart that humbles itself to him and what he says to do. And here’s the great news: the God of heaven honors those that honor him – so if you do, he will!

By worshiping, we give God what he wants. He created man to worship him; not by coercion, but by choice. Imagine how God must feel when we choose to worship him. God is worthy to be praised, and he’s done so much for anyone who’s ever been saved, if anyone should give God what he wants it ought to be us. He more than deserves it.

Abraham said it himself: the altar on Jehovah-jireh was for worship. He was prepared to do whatever it took to please God – now that really is worship!

2.  Testing

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. – Genesis 22:12 (KJV)

Sometimes in our zeal we make some pretty bold statements, just like Peter did when he set Jesus straight for all of that “I’m going to die on a cross” talk. God knows how serious we are; but sometimes he’ll bring something into our lives to show us that we might not be as serious as we say we are.

The first verse of Genesis 22 says that God “tempted” Abraham; in other words, based on the word “tempt” (Strongs 1373), God intended to test, try, or prove Abraham. He wasn’t tempting him with sin, or pulling a stunt on Abraham; he was bringing something out in Abraham for Abraham’s benefit.

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: – 1 Peter 1:7 (KJV)

Do you remember how it felt to get the victory over an ugly attitude, or treat someone well when they treat you rotten? That’s what this verse is talking about. When God allows things to happen to us to bring out the attitudes, actions, and reactions that he’s looking for that aren’t natural to us, not only will it be pleasing to him, but he will take it upon himself to bless us abundantly with the most precious commodity on earth – his fellowship, which precedes his power.

I remember an old preacher who said that while he was driving, God showed him the caskets of his wife and children all in a row. God asked him, “would you still love me?” Think about that for a moment. This is very much the same type of ordeal that Abraham went through: could anything so horrific cause us to stop serving God if God called the number?

Just like anyone who’s been saved, be it Abraham, you or me, God deliberately tests us. Just remember that God won’t allow us to be tested with anything beyond our ability, and no matter what you’re going through, God has allowed it, and you have the capacity to get the victory. Why can we be so sure of that? Because if God allowed it, he thinks you can handle it. Abraham passed his test with flying colors – how well do you and I stack up when the heat is on?

3.  Obedience

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. – 1 Samuel 15:22 (KJV)

When Saul failed to kill all of the cattle of the Amalekites and kept king Agag alive, God had decided that Saul was going to be replaced. Why? Because Saul’s disobedience proved to God that Saul has no intention of getting with the program – EVER.

With Abraham, we have the diametric opposite, and not surprisingly favor from God upon each man is completely different as well. God wanted to see just how far Abraham would go to be obedient, and Abraham proved that nothing on earth had the ability of getting between him and God. How did he show that? By his obedience to do what God told him to do, no matter how unreasonable it appeared to Abraham.

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. – Genesis 22:18 (KJV)

How about you? How obedient are you to the Lord? If you’re like me, you’ve had your fair share of failure and shortcomings, and not just a few times. Abraham was willing to do whatever God told him to do no matter what it was. What might God ask of you that you’ll never agree to?

Conclusion

In this post, we considered three things that made Abraham’s altar at Jehovah-jireh a place where Abraham’s actions greatly pleased the Lord. The altar at Jehovah-jireh was a place that Abraham worshiped, was tested, and ultimately obeyed God no matter what was asked.

God is glorified by Abraham upon Jehovah-jireh. And in a similar way, God is glorified by Job; here’s how: these men gave God bragging rights against everyone’s most hated enemy: Satan. Remember when the Lord said, “hast thou considered my servant Job”? Well with Abraham’s unrestrained obedience, God could say the same thing about Abraham.

And if God can say the same thing about you, be sure that some very demanding testing will come your way. This blog is dedicated to finding the pathway to the power of God in these days right now. We often talk about having the power of God, but any great man of God I’ve ever heard will say the same thing: it comes with a price. And anyone who says it’s not a frightening thing is lying through their teeth.

But there’s only one alternative, and that’s disobey the Lord, and be useless. This should appear as an even more unattractive prospect to any child of God, especially when considering the great treasure hunt that is ours which will be rewarded in grand scheme of eternity. The only way we’ll ever enjoy this life to the fullest is to be obedient, even if it means some very considerable trials. Bro. Abraham was living proof of this.

So in conclusion, we find four general purposes that altars had for Bro. Abraham back then, which are applicable to us today. They are: thanksgiving, confession, guidance, and worship. If we want to see God’s power today, we need to be  people that understand the importance of having a personal altar that gets used on a regular basis.

Was Abraham perfect? Of course not. Are you perfect, and am I perfect? Heck no. So what can imperfect people do to be as close as possible to a righteous and holy God? Here’s how: get yourself an altar and use it. Use it like Abraham did, and God will get the glory out of your life like he did the life of Abraham.

The next post will be the last in this series. In it we will try to bridge the gap between Abraham’s time (2100 BC) and altar-praying Christians today. God be with you, and please remember me in your prayers.

Posted in Abraham's Altars (5-part series) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abraham’s Altars #3 – Mamre

We’ve arrived at the third post in our series on Abraham’s altars. Hopefully by now your altar is getting a lot of use if it wasn’t already.

Last time we cited some qualities that made Abraham’s altar east of Bethel-special (you like that?). We saw that between the altar in the plains of Moreh and the one east of Bethel, we find two uses for Abraham’s altars so far: thanksgiving, and to nurture his relationship with God.

Moving forward, the next altar Abraham builds is located in Mamre. Mamre is actually the name of an Amorite who becomes confederate with Abraham later, and the “plains of Mamre” are located about a mile from Hebron, and about 20 miles from Jerusalem.

Continuing on our story, Abraham and Lot’s possessions (herds) are too big for the land to be able to bear them both. In other words, it was time to separate. Abraham gives Lot the choice between the Jordan plain (the better proposition) and the land westward. Lot chooses the better of the two, sticking Uncle Abraham with the leftovers.

So we find that Abraham comes to the plains of Mamre, pitches his tent there, and builds an altar to the Lord. This altar has special significance, as there are three things that make this altar uniquely a mission-control altar. In other words, it’s were God informs Abraham of his plan’s specifics. This altar at Mamre is a mission-control altar because:

  1. Abraham kept communication open with God
  2. Abraham received marching orders
  3. Abraham received feedback

1.  Abraham Kept Communication Open with God

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where… – Genesis 13:10 (KJV)

By giving Lot the choice of which land he’ll take, Abraham gets the short end of the stick by being the better person. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Lot does the selfish thing and takes what looks best for him. I wander what went through Abraham’s head when Lot chose the better land for himself. After being thoughtful and generous to Lot, it would be easy for Uncle Abraham to feel kicked in the head, and to think his godly influence on Lot didn’t do a lick of good.

And in the midst of it all, God speaks with Abraham again. He tells Abraham that he intends to give all the land he can see in every direction to his children, that he’ll have so many descendants that they can’t be numbered, and he tells Abraham to, “walk through the land”, in other words, check it out, and move around, because it’s going to be his.

Mamre and Neighbors

From this point forward, Abraham will spend the rest of his time residing within a general 20 mile spread. He’ll journey outside of that area to get to Jehovah-jireh (Jerusalem), and to chase the northern invaders to rescue Lot, but as far as residence goes, Abraham will move around this general 20 mile area (Idumaea) for the rest of his life.

After parting ways with Lot, we come to this verse:

Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD. – Genesis 13:18 (KJV)

Knowing that this is where God would have him to be, Abraham builds an altar to the Lord at Mamre. From now on, wherever he travels in Idumaea, the altar at Mamre will always be within striking distance.

Based on the transient nature of events surrounding the building of Abraham’s altar at Mamre, we can conclude that sometimes we need to get to the altar just to recenter.  God will remind us and give us reminders of what he wants from us, and what he’ll do for us. An altar is the best place to be, especially when someone dear to us disappoints us.

Abraham might have had a reason to get bitter – Lot’s selfishness. But he didn’t let it cause him a problem, and God immediately reminds him of the great promises in store. And as soon as he sets up camp, Abraham is out building another altar, a place he can meet with and hear from God. This is how he kept open communication with God. When’s the last time you communicated with God? Is something prohibiting it?

2 – Abraham Received Marching orders

The next recurrence of Abraham and God having a formal meeting is in Genesis 17, and Abraham is 99 yrs old. This is after the rescue of Lot, and Ishmael has just been born in the preceding chapter. For all intents and purposes, Abraham would have come back to Mamre after rescuing Lot, and we find no record of him traveling anywhere else in between. And if God is going to appear to Abraham, where is he likely to do that? That’s right – Abraham’s altar at Mamre. And based on the chapter immediately following (Genesis 18), we read that God met with Abraham in the plains of Mamre. So we can be reasonably confident that Abraham is at Mamre at this time.

God relays a few things to Abraham in Genesis 17:  God changes his name from Abram to Abraham, reminds Abraham the land he’s on belongs to his children forever, and mandates circumcision to him and his descendants. He also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, and tells Abraham that she’ll have a child, and it is through this child that God will establish his most exclusive promises. After it is all said and done, Abraham obeys God and has all of the males in his household and himself circumcised.

That’s a lot of dealings, eh? What is significant is this: God told Abraham about some changes that were to take place. In other words, Abraham received his marching orders. Circumcision and the name changes were God’s plan for Abraham, and God decided that now was the time to activate them.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 (KJV)

If you’ve been saved, you belong to God. God has the authority to do whatever he wants with us and as such, we need to do what we’re told. First we need to be in a position to HEAR what we’re being told, but after that, we are his to use any which way he sees fit. It scares me to say that, because I always feel I’m going to have to live it whenever I say it, and that usually means something very inconvenient could happen soon. Not being a fan of inconvenient, I’d rather avoid it if possible. I know, I know… I’m out of God’s will for thinking that way.

Imagine you’re starting a new job. For the first two weeks, you will be trained on how to perform your new job the way your employer wants it done. There’s just one problem: about a week into the training, the boss decided to pull you out of training, and now expects you know everything there is to know about the job. He’s fully aware that you aren’t fully trained, but it doesn’t matter. How is anyone to succeed in a case like that? Oddly enough, there are bosses out there like that, and if yours is one of them, you have my prayers.

No communication between leadership and subordinates is bad news. It’s not leadership’s job to inform their workers of EVERYTHING, but they do have a responsibility to those they lead to make every effort to help those under them succeed. The best leaders will do what they can to help. The worst leaders will expect you to figure everything out on your own, and be little to no help.

And with God, he’ll make it obvious what he wants. He wants you to know what he wants, and does not expect that you’ll just one day accidentally find his will with no communication with him. That means he wants to communicate with you!

Just as Abraham received fresh instructions at the altar at Mamre, we need to get our orders where we are. There’s no better way to do that than by spending time alone with God, and speaking with him about what he wants done. If you do that, and there’s nothing between you and him, I guarantee, he’ll let you know what he wants.

And when God tells you what he wants from you, you’ve just been blessed beyond belief; – God speaking to anyone is a supreme act of kindness, and for it we should be extremely thankful. But it’s not enough to hear what you’re supposed to do and then not do it. God tells me what to do because he really does expect me to do it – so I better get it done, especially now that I know what’s expected and am accountable for that information.

Abraham got his marching orders at his altar at Mamre. When was the last time God gave you special instructions? Maybe the more fitting question is this:  has he ever given you instructions? Ask him and he will – why? Because he WANTS TO!

3.  Abraham Received Feedback

In Genesis 18, we find the Lord appearing to Abraham in physical form at the plains of Mamre. Abraham is reminded that Sarah will have Isaac, and that Sodom and Gomorrah’s wickedness stinks to high heaven and they’ve spent every last drop of mercy.

We have the classic discourse about the 50, the 45, the 40 righteous, and so on, as Abraham requests God to spare the cities of the plains and not slay the righteous with the wicked. He widdles it down to 10, and God agrees – but the problem is this: there weren’t even that many, and based on 2 Peter 2:7-8, there’s a good chance that Lot himself may have been the only one.

God goes on to send angels to rescue Lot and his family, and fire rains from heaven which destroys the cities of the plains. And this brings us to these verses:

27And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD:

28And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. – Genesis 19:27-28 (KJV)

In this portion, God verifies his word. When Abraham came to “the place where he stood before the LORD”, he could see the smoke which was a result of God doing what he said he was going to do. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, the place that Abraham stood before the Lord was Abraham’s altar at Mamre.

Sometimes when things happen that we don’t understand, we can get 100% accurate answers. How? Like this: get to your altar and talk to God about it. Not always will God reveal it to us – he’s God and sometimes it isn’t for us to know. But then again, sometimes, he brings things into our lives for the very reason of getting us to the altar, where he will use the event to teach us how to be better. More than once I’ve asked to understand something and the only thing I hear is the pointless moo of a cow on a neighboring hill.

God revealed his plan to Abraham, and since Abraham was privy to the details (i.e., the meeting in the plains of Mamre of Genesis 18), Abraham could have a special appreciation for what just happened. What happened was horrific, and not something we’d wish on anyone, but it is what God said he was going to do, and when we see things happen that God says WILL happen, it provides a booster-shot of faith and reverential fear.

God revealed his faithfulness to Abraham at the altar at Mamre. God provided Abraham with feedback that reminded Abraham that he’s still God and he’s still in control. Every now and then we need some of that too, don’t we? Just like Abraham, let’s use an altar to get some feedback from the Lord.

Conclusion

Today we saw that Abraham’s altar at Mamre had three different usages: it was what Abraham used to keep his communication open with God, it’s where he received his directives from God, and it’s where God provided him with real-time feedback on events.

Abraham was such a great man of faith because like anything successful, there was good communication between concerned parties. And just like him, we to be on speaking terms with the Lord at all times so that we can stay focused and on the same page. We also need to find out what’s coming and how to prepare for it, as well as review what happened and what all went in to it being a situation in our lives that honored God (or not).

So this means that we now find three general purposes for Abraham’s altars. We find that the altar at the plains of Moreh was used for thanksgiving. The altar at Bethel was one that helped improve Abraham’s and God’s relationship by clearing the air, and here at the altar at Mamre we see the capabilities an altar has for planning, action, and review.

The next altar we find Abraham building is upon Jehovah-jireh, and this is my favorite altar. For it is upon this altar that Abraham prepares to kill his nearest and dearest earthly desires for the glory of God. And how is God glorified by this act?  We’ll find out next time in Abraham’s Altars #4: Jehovah-jireh.

Posted in Abraham's Altars (5-part series) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Abraham’s Altars #2 – East of Bethel

God sure has been good, hasn’t he? I want to thank and praise him for all the help he’s been to me last week in particular. I love you with all my heart Lord, glory to your precious name.

Welcome back to the second post in our study of Abraham’s altars. Last time we saw Abraham’s altar in the plains of Moreh, and we saw that the primary purpose of that altar was.

Today we deal with Abraham’s altar which he built east of Bethel. By observing Abraham’s life as it surrounds this altar, we can understand what made this altar special. So let’s get a brief overview of Abraham from Genesis 12:8 to Genesis 13:4.

Abraham moves to a hill east of Bethel, and builds an altar there. Abraham moves farther south (never a good thing in Scripture), and decides to sojourn (wait out the food shortage) in Egypt. Sounds a little like Elimelech and Naomi, doesn’t it? Do you remember how it worked out for them?

Abraham is afraid the Egyptians will kill him and take his wife Sarai (Sarah) because she’s beautiful, so he tells her to pose as his sister, not his wife. Pharaoh takes an interest in her, and God sends a monster plague on Pharaoh’s house because of it. Pharaoh calls Abraham out, and tells him to get gone.

Abraham does, and he takes everyone and everything in his care back to eastern Bethel, right back to where he came from. The altar is still there from before, and when it was all said and done, Abraham “called on the name of the Lord”.

In a nutshell that’s what happened, so let’s begin to break this thing down and see what’s in it for us. There are three things we’ll look at regarding Abraham’s altar east of Bethel:

  1. When he couldn’t access the old one, he built a new one
  2. He called on the name of the LORD
  3. He came back to the altar east of Bethel

1.  When He Couldn’t Access the Previous One, He Built a New One

I served in the military from 1999 to 2007 and I was in Iraq from 2003 to 2004; thank you Lord for your protection. Any (competent) leader of troops knows the importance of making sure that there is plenty of drinking water anywhere the unit goes.

The leadership that I was under was fantastic, and they understood this principle well. But here’s the situation: we had plenty of water at the forward operating base. When “inside the wire”, we didn’t have to worry about running out of water. But when we were “outside of the wire”, or off base in a red zone, leadership still had to make sure there was enough water in the event we got stuck or worse. It was up to them to figure it out.

So what they would do is designate a vehicle to carry the water, or be the “water point”. Before leaving, we all had presumably adequate water in our canteens, and should that water run out, there was always a vehicle at which we knew we could get more water if we needed it.

The availability of water on post did us no good if we were on a mission off post. We needed to replicate the on-post availability of water when we went off post, which we did with a water point vehicle. So how is this tied to Abraham?

Abraham had a perfectly good altar at the plains of Moreh, but it did him no good when he was in Bethel. What does this mean? Abraham needed an altar that worked like the one at the plains of Moreh, but was located at Bethel. So he did the logical thing and built one where he was presently located.

If you need something bad enough, come hell or high water, if you’re head’s screwed on you’ll figure out a way to get it. Even if it’s just a makeshift job, it doesn’t need to be pretty, it just has to work. And if you’re not at the house, or wherever your altar is, and you need an altar bad enough, you’ll get a makeshift one. Evangelists have to know this one, because when the scenery changes every week, so does the altar!

And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. – Judges 15:15 (KJV)

God’s people need to be the kind of people who can make it happen, just as Samson was here. Sorry Samson – there aren’t any sharpened swords handy; in fact, there aren’t even any blunt or broken swords handy – Samson, what are you doing with that donkey jaw – wait Samson, come back!

Abraham moved around pretty often. When he was in God’s will, he built an altar where he was, and when he wasn’t he didn’t. It may be that you need to get an altar where you are because the one you already have is currently unavailable. Do you have one that you can get to today?

2.  He Called on the Name of the LORD

And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. – 1 Kings 18:24 (KJV)

This is one of my favorite Bible stories. Taken from 1 Kings 18, you’ll recall that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a God-Bowl. They agreed that whichever god answers by fire, that’s God for real. Elijah sends up a 63-word prayer, and God sends down fire that fries every molecule of the offering: bullock, wood, stone, dust, and water included. How’s that for thorough?

Just like Elijah, Abraham called on the name of the Lord at an altar. And today, I can call on the name of the Lord at my altar, and so can you. Why would we call on the Lord? One reason may be to get leadership from God on what to do. Another may be to find grace for the trial you’re going through. And then there’s times where it’s good just to fellowship, and enjoy his presence. We’ll see another reason a little later.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. – Jeremiah 29:12 (KJV)

God could drown us with verses regarding his faithfulness to answer when we call on him. The list can go on and on forever. Try this: tonight, get all alone at your altar. Then as sincerely as you possibly can, call on the name of the Lord. Be very still, and then see what happens.

Abraham called on the name of the Lord at his altar because he wanted to communicate with God. With nothing between you and Christ, call on the name of the Lord at your altar, and he’ll meet with you too!

3.  He Came Back to the Altar East of Bethel

We find that after Abraham is expelled from Egypt, he comes back to Bethel. Reading Genesis 13:3 and 4, I get the feeling that going to Egypt might have been something that God didn’t tell him to do:

3And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai;

4Unto the place of the altar, which he had make there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. – Genesis 13:3,4 (KJV)

It took me three tries to pass my driving test to get my driver’s license. Go ahead, laugh. – I laugh just thinking about how pitiful it was! I’m not proud of that, and it was 17 years ago. Contrary to what anyone who knows me might say, I’d like to think a few things have changed since I was 16. I said that to say this:

I failed a required test twice before succeeding the third time. And after failing, where did I start? I started right back at the beginning ALL OVER AGAIN. In other words, I wasn’t capable of lawfully operating a vehicle as recognized by the state of Illinois until one way or another I figured out a way to pass that darned driving portion of the driving test. And until I passed, I had to keep starting over. God got Abraham back to Bethel, and with that accomplished, he could now try it again.

Question: what does God require of us when we get out of line? I mentioned earlier that there is another reason for calling on the name of the Lord at an altar, and here it is:  Repentance.

Just as much as meeting with God, finding his will, and enjoying his presence, my altar needs to be a place where I can call on the Lord and get things right with God. If we’re going to live for God, there’s going to have to be some confession taking place in our lives, and frequently. If sinless perfection in this life really exists, then I’m John the Baptist with a reattached head.

Abraham came back to Bethel, and as we find in Genesis 13:3, he called on the name of the Lord again. But this time, it’s to clear the air. This shows a repentant heart within Abraham, and he used his altar to get right with God – just like you and I need to. Abraham repeats the ole’ “she’s-my-sister-shuffle” later in life with Abimelech, but for now, Abraham is making things right the best way he knows how…just like we need to on a daily basis with our Lord.

Conclusion

Here we found three things about Abraham’s altar east of Bethel. We saw that when he couldn’t access the one at the plains of Moreh he built a new one, that he called on the name of the LORD, and that he came back to this altar east of Bethel after his dealings in Egypt.

On a personal level, I can somewhat relate to Abraham leaving his altar and coming back to it later. Last year about this time, I went through some very confusing times spiritually. Looking back, falling flat on my face caused me to learn a lot. But something else happened in the process: I quit going to my prayer altar.

And about 4 months ago, the Lord got a hold of me, and reminded me of that pine shade out in the country where we used to meet. With that place heavy on my heart, I went back to where God and I would meet. Since that time, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do about 11 at night than meet with the Lord at a place I know he’ll meet with me.

Abraham left Bethel southward, and made a mess in Egypt. He embarrassed himself, and he disgraced God. But even in all that, God forgave him and brought him back to where he needed to be. After Abraham was ousted from Egypt, I wander if tears of brokenheartedness and joy welled up in his eyes as in the distance he could see that hill east of Bethel where he built an altar. Abraham fixed his relationship with God back in Bethel.

So far in this series, we have seen two general uses that Abraham had for an altar: thanksgiving, and calling on the name of the Lord (nurturing a relationship with God). Knowing these things, let’s put our altars to work in our lives like Abraham did in his. In the next post we’ll consider the next altar in the life of Abraham: the altar at Mamre.

Posted in Abraham's Altars (5-part series) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Abraham’s Altars #1 – Plains of Moreh

Welcome friends, today we begin a 5-part series: Abraham’s altars. I recently listened to a message that was preached about 20 years ago by Bro. James Lockee, and he dealt with how Lot lost his tent, altar, and a couple other things when he went to Sodom. He showed that by losing those things, it was all downhill for Lot.

I am curious about what an altar is and what it’s for. Consider this: how would Lot have known that using an altar was important? Who would have taught him its significance? Here’s the answer:

Uncle Abraham. Scripture records Abraham built 4 altars, and we’ll take a look at each one in this series. Each altar has significance to us today, and by understanding the function of each, we can better understand how to invoke more of God and God’s power in our lives throughout our lives.

We don’t kindle fire and kill animals for burnt offerings unto the Lord Old Testament-style nowadays. But by understanding the significance and function of an altar, it will be shown that God’s people today need an altar that they can go to just as much now as the heroes of the faith did back then.

The four altars of Abraham that we will consider are:

  1. The altar at the plains of Moreh
  2. The altar east of Bethel
  3. The altar at Mamre
  4. The altar upon Jehovah-jireh

NOTE: While his name is technically Abram at points throughout this series, we’ll just refer to him as Abraham to keep it simple. Easy, right?

One facet in our study of Abraham’s altars is that we will consider the surrounding events when Abraham built each altar. This can give us some clues about its significance. We begin by considering Abraham’s first altar, the one at the plains of Moreh.

Our story begins in Genesis 12, when God calls Abraham out from the house of his father, Terah who at that time resided in Haran. Abraham (at age 75) and everyone in his home travel to Canaan, and there he sets up camp at the plains of Moreh. God appears to him when he gets there, confirms that he’ll give the land to his children, and Abraham builds an altar.

And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. – Genesis 12:7 (KJV)

There are 3 things that involve the altar at the plains of Moreh:

  1. Its purpose was thanksgiving and worship
  2. It was to be used regularly
  3. It was Abraham’s first altar

1.  Its Purpose Was Thanksgiving and Worship

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. – Hebrews 13:15 (KJV)

In Genesis 12:7, God appeared to Abraham; this in and of itself is a reason to be exceedingly thankful. And if that wasn’t enough, consider what happens next: God confirms his promise that he intends to give this land to Abraham and his children.

If God appeared to you, and then he gave you something that goes far beyond your mortal life, there’s a great deal to be thankful for! And I submit to you that if you are saved and reading this, God has done both of these things for you, just as he did for Abraham in the plains of Moreh.

How? He appeared to you – his Holy Spirit showed you in your heart the need of salvation, and directed you to Christ. Then, based on your decision to be saved, he promised to give you something that would last far past what your physical life could encompass – eternal life. God appeared and gave a lasting promise to Abraham, and if he saved your soul, he did it for you too.

As with Abraham, it is fitting that we prepare an altar “unto the Lord, who appeared to us”. What happens on an altar? Sacrifice. And based on the above verse from Hebrews, we are exhorted by Paul to offer the “sacrifice of praise to God continually”. Abraham’s altar was to offer thanks for what God had done for him, and it is altogether fitting that we should do the same. Ask God for the details, and he’ll give you an altar at which you can offer praise and thanks for what he’s done for you.

2.  It Was To Be Used Regularly

I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. – 1 Corinthians 15:31 (KJV)

Just as God is in the process of continually helping and taking care of us, we should be in the continual habit of maintaining our walk with him. What would hinder perpetual and uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord? Our flesh, and the intrinsic sin nature that every saved person still has.

This is the reason that Paul declared that on a daily basis, he needed to “die”, or mortify sin inside himself. It is inevitable that there will be sin that needs confession, that’s a foregone conclusion. But allowing that sin to go unconfessed for long periods of time can nurture some deep-rooted weeds, if you know what I mean.  In other words, unconfessed sin can lead to bigger and worse problems if allowed to fester and grow – that’s why our spiritual lives need to be weeded regularly.

And just as important as it is for us to spend the energy to keep things on the up-and-up with God, we ought to be thanking him for the things he does for us all the time. Question(s): when was the last time you thanked God for your health? How about your home? How about your spouse? Your kids? Your family? How about your church? For you pastor? Assistant pastor? Deacons? Sunday School teacher? When was the last time you thanked God for saving you? How about the help he’s been to you at your job? How about keeping your home safe at night while you slept?

It’s better to thank the Lord for those things while you have them, rather than learn to appreciate them when the Lord decides you don’t appreciate them enough and takes them away. The worst feeling I have is when my kids don’t appreciate my generosity to them; in the same respect, imagine how God feels when we take his blessings for granted.

Abraham was moved to the plains of Moreh, and the Scripture doesn’t say how long the Lord told him to be there, if God even gave him a time frame. It’s likely Abraham packed up from the plains of Moreh and moved to Bethel (Abraham’s next stop) at the moment God told him to, and that God didn’t tell him how long he had before the next move.

This much is obvious: Abraham built an altar at the plains of Moreh and several other places, with the intent of living godly the entire time he was tied to a place. The single exception is the altar upon Jehovah-jireh, as the purpose of that altar was a special sacrifice, in the ordeal of offering Isaac. In other words, Abraham’s “residential” altars didn’t get used once and that’s it, they were used repeatedly. Interestingly, Abraham doesn’t build an altar in Egypt – I wander why?

What about your altar? Will you use it once and be done, or will you use it continually, ever giving thanks and praise to the Lord? The decision is yours, and if you’re like Abraham, you’ll use your altar as often as you can.

3.  It Was Abraham’s First Altar

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. – James 4:17 (KJV)

The gist of this verse really leaves nowhere to hide. Basically it means if a person knows better, they’re accountable to follow what they know is the right thing.

Suppose I just got married. I forgot to tell my wife that I was going to hang out at Bro. So-and-so’s after bowling one night. I don’t even call and come home at midnight, and my newlywed wife’s not happy. Easy enough mistake; we’ll fight, apologize for getting mad at each other, and then assume that we’ve seen the last of Adam’s random doing-whatever-he-feels-like. Why? Because I should now be aware that this is something that doesn’t thrill my wife, and a husband should respect his wife enough to easily accommodate whenever he can.

Now suppose 9 years down the road (man this is sounding really familiar), I’m still doing the same thing that started easily avoidable fights 9 years ago. One would assume I should know better, right? Right. At this point, it could no longer be construed as accidental, and I couldn’t plead ignorance. It is now a situation of “I should now better”.

There came a point in time that if Abraham’s life was to properly honor God, Abraham was going to need an altar. If Abraham had ignored God’s leadership, what would God be able to do with Abraham? That’s right – nothing.

If God is telling you to have an altar for you and/or your family at which you can lift up your thanks, you’ll make one of two decisions:  1) you’ll establish that prayer altar and get using it (it could be as simple as kneeling at a couch), or 2) you’ll keep things just like they are, even though God has told you to get using your altar.

Abraham had to learn individual altar worship sometime, and he started at the plains of Moreh by building his first altar. Consider yourself: are you in need of a first altar? If you are, what are you going to do?

Conclusion

In review, we considered three things about Abraham’s first altar at the plains of Moreh. We saw that its purpose was thanksgiving and worship, his altar was for regular use, and it was Abraham’s first altar.

Throughout this post there has been a call for each of us to have his own altar. For the intent and purpose of this post, we’ll call an altar a literal, physical place where I can meet with God privately. In New Testament terms, this is the idea of a “closet”. If you already have one, that’s fantastic! Keep at it!

Some people use their family dinner table as an altar, some kneel at a living room couch, some at their bedside, some their personal study rooms, and others have others. Some I know use the vehicle they drive to work in as an altar – for a while that trip to work was my thanksgiving/prayer time, and my altar was my car.

On a personal note, my wife and I use our bedside as our shared altar, we use the living room couch as a family altar, and I have a pine shade in the country that is the most sacred place I know.

We have an old-fashioned altar at church, and that is just as useful an altar as any of the aforementioned. Don’t negate the use of the altar at your church. Us good Baptists see someone going to the altar and think the worst, but it’s time that we see someone using the altar and think more of that person rather than less.

In my case, that altar is 25 miles away, so its use for me is more specific to when I’m at church. It really is a personal preference, and the best thing a person who desires an altar can do is ask the Lord for a special place for you and him to meet. If you do that, I promise you he’ll give you one; and if you’ll use it, be prepared to hear some things you wouldn’t normally hear, and see God’s power in ways you never even dreamed of.

Today we find the function of the altar that the plains of Moreh was particularly Abraham’s thanksgiving. Next time we’ll consider Abraham’s next altar: east of Bethel.

Posted in Abraham's Altars (5-part series) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment