As I’ve shared in previous devotionals, my mother had a lot to do with my spiritual formation. She attended church all her life, but didn’t feel that she was a true follower of Jesus or believer until I was about 9 or 10 years old. So, she was probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s at the time of her “conversion”. There are some that don’t like to use terms like “saved” or “born again” because they are so closely associated with certain denominations. I’ve never had a problem with it because both terms are Biblical.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” John 3:3 NIV
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. ”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13 NIV
When you use these words, especially the word “saved”, it conjures up an image of an altar call at the end of a worship service or at least it does for me. An altar call is when a pastor or speaker in a worship service invites those in the audience or congregation to come forward to kneel at the altar, confess their sins, and ask Jesus into their heart. I know it can be abused and used as a form of manipulation or coercion, but it’s not always like that. I’ve seen it done well and not so well. Altar calls are kind of an American thing. Even American Methodist helped create and some still cherish this liturgical practice.
When I was about 12, I was watching Billy Graham on TV, and if you’re familiar with Billy Graham crusades you know that they always have an altar call at the end of the service. They played “Just as I am” and hundreds, even thousands, of people would walk down to the stage to accept Christ. They told all the TV viewers that they could do it right where they were, so that’s what I did from my bedroom in Marietta, Georgia. I didn’t have an altar to go to so I just knelt by my bed. I confessed my sins, made a statement of faith, and prayed for Jesus to come into my heart. It was a powerful and emotional experience, but it was more than that. It was a game changer. My whole perspective and focus on life changed that day. That was the day that I became a true believer. That was the day that I called on the name of the Lord, and according to the Apostle Paul I was saved. Terminology aside believing was what really mattered.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
My mom didn’t make this decision for me. Sure she took me to church, but she never shoved it down my throat. This was my thing. I wanted it. I chose to believe. I chose to put my faith and trust in God. My walk of faith took a major step on that special day. However there have been other “special days” in my walk or journey with the Lord. I believe that it started even before that day, and there have been special moments since then throughout my life. I’ve been to the altar, literally and figuratively, on many occasions for prayer, confession, or just to reconnect with the Lord.
Altars are significant in the Bible. Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah and others built altars. These altars were sacred places that signified an experience or encounter with the Lord. Here is one example.
Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” Genesis 35:1 NIV
After Jacob stole his brother Esau’s birthright, he wasn’t very popular on the home front. In fact, Esau was planning to kill Jacob after their father Isaac died, so Jacob had to run away from home. While Jacob is on the run, he stops to rest for the night. During the night he grabbed a rock for a pillow and has a dream of angels going up and down a stairway or ladder to heaven. The Lord speaks to Jacob in the dream.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Genesis 28:15-19 NIV
Bethel becomes a very special place for Jacob because it was there that God revealed himself when he was fleeing from his brother. Years later God tells Jacob in Genesis 35 to return and build an altar to commemorate or in remembrance of that moment.
Even though my experiences with the Lord haven’t been quite as dramatic as Jacob’s, they are still significant. I didn’t build an altar in my bedroom that day or at any of the other special places where the Lord revealed himself to me, but I still remember them. They are special places or altars in my heart and mind.
No matter where our altars are: in a church, on a mountaintop, on a beach, on the back porch, or in a bedroom, they have special meaning and significance. Wherever we may pray or reach out to God, kneeling or not, is an altar. God is not confined to a place or a building. He can meet with us anywhere and at anytime. He is always available. He is always reaching out to us, calling and inviting us into relationship with Him. We just have to be willing to reach back, offer ourselves to Him, and believe.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalms 139:23-24 NIV
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.