Build Altars to God in Your Life

Every time I read about the Patriarchs in Genesis (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), I marvel how these men built altars with which to worship God. These altars were typically built at key moments when God appeared to them or when He provided in a mighty way.

The altars didn’t just provide a platform to worship. They also served as visual reminders to what God had done in the past. In a time of doubt or hardship, these men and those who were of their household need only gaze upon the nearest altar and remember that God had shown up, providing for His people. 

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at first.  – Genesis 28:18-19, ESV

There are several passages I could have picked, but this one is significant because of what happens later. We see in these verses that Jacob made a makeshift altar. He had seen the angels coming and going to heaven. He was on the run from Esau and hadn’t yet been cheated by Laban. It is where God spoke to Jacob and gave him the same promise given to Jacob’s father and grandfather. It would also be where God would call Jacob to again after he had escaped Laban, reunited with Esau, but then saw personal tragedy and trouble with Dinah’s rape and his boys’ subsequent revenge. 

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”  – Genesis 35:1, ESV

God called Jacob back to Bethel and commanded him to make an altar, a more lasting one this time. Jacob obeyed. Once again God spoke to Jacob of the promise. And Jacob remembered about the first pillar and set up a more lasting one, a pillar of stone. 

In our lives, we need to set up pillars and altars, too. We don’t need physical altars, but certainly some sort of representation or remembrance of what God has done for us. Life isn’t fair and times will be hard, even if they are going well now. After Bethel Rachel would give birth to Benjamin, but would die in childbirth. It would be a hard time for Jacob. We experience similar hard times, often unexpectedly. Altars to God Almighty help us through those times. 

What kind of holy altars to Jesus can you set up? What has He done in your life that you should remember and look back upon? When has God revealed Himself to you, showering you with His love? Take the time and effort to remember, just as the Patriarchs did.

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Walking with God

We make Christianity too hard. We make it about events, programs, building projects, small groups, Sunday school, and a whole host of other things. It’s not that those things shouldn’t exist within Christianity. It’s just that we too often make them the primary things. They should not be. Let me show you why.

As I was doing Bible study, I came across this simple statement:

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  – Genesis 6:8, ESV

When I see a statement like this, I ask, “Why?” In this case, why did Noah find favor in the Lord and why didn’t anyone else? This one isn’t hard to figure out as the answer is in the next verse:

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.  – Genesis 6:9b

Note that the only action cited is “walked with God.” There’s nothing about how many times he attended worship services or how often he took care of the poor around him. There’s nothing mentioned about how good a father or husband he was. We don’t have any indication of his deeds. Yet Noah was found to be a righteous man, blameless in his generation. There’s something to this walking with God. 

Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. – Genesis 5:24, ESV

Why was Enoch taken? Enoch was taken because he walked with God. None of the others in the line of Adam were said to have this type of relationship. And therefore it’s not surprising that no others were reported to be taken by God. This walking with God isn’t possible if sin is dominating one’s life. For instance:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  – Genesis 3:8, ESV

Walking with someone regularly speaks to a deep relationship. Walking with God means having a strong relationship with Him. It’s not that those other things I mentioned earlier aren’t important; they are. They are just not as important as our relationship with Jesus Christ. In actuality, all of our efforts in Christendom should come out of our relationship. They should be fruit of that relationship. However, too often we treat them as replacements for spending time with God, instead of seeking to draw closer to Him. 

If Christianity has gotten complicated for you, if it seems like it’s more work and commitments and appointments in an already busy life, look at your walk with Jesus. Is it where it should be? Are you spending time with Him? The Bible and prayer are the traditional ways we get to know Him better. And while one can gain a lot from worship service and Sunday school and small groups and other activities, the best way to get to know someone is one-n-one, which means time alone with our Savior. At the end of the day, our walk with God matters the most. Yes, the Bible directs us to meet together. We are in disobedience if we don’t listen to that. However, meeting together is not to take the place of spending that time with Jesus. Our good works don’t either. There will be plenty at judgment who will describe to our Lord all the things they did in His name. Remember, though, that many of them will be dismissed. Why? Because they never took the time to really know Jesus. Get to know Him. It’s eternally important.

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Face Fear with a View of Eternity

Paul knew he didn’t have much time left. Every previous appeal had failed. He knew he’d be in front of Nero. And he knew that in that short amount of time he’d convey the Gospel message. This wasn’t the way to win his freedom. At least, not his earthly freedom. Paul must have felt some fear. However, he didn’t let it control him. Instead, he wrote this to his son in the faith:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV

Paul knew what lay ahead. He had lived his life after conversion with a steadfast devotion to sharing the Gospel. He was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles and he lived it to the fullest. Therefore, he knew what was promised him in eternity. But note that he doesn’t just leave that promise pointing to him. He also points it at everyone who rejoices in Christ’s incarnation. Do you love that Jesus came in the form of a man and took our sins upon Himself? Then you also have a crown of righteousness reserved for you. 

There isn’t anything which can take that away. We can fear for our earthly lives, but we don’t have any reason to fear for our eternal ones or our eternal reward. Those will be delivered by God Himself and no one takes anything away from God. Even with intentional limits on His power and divinity, Jesus could not have been taken at Gethame. The Bible reminds us that He willingly laid His life down. He could have called angels but chose not to do so. He had to go to the Cross if we were to be forgiven and if those crowns of righteousness were to be fitted to our heads. Christ has ascended. Those temporary limits are gone. If His enemies couldn’t best Him during His time on earth, they most certainly cannot best Him now. Nor can they best His children and deprive them of what God has promised.

I don’t know what you may be going through. I don’t know what you’re facing. I know that the Bible has plenty of examples of people facing difficult, even life-shattering, situations. Not all of those end well from an earthly perspective. Some scenarios, like Paul’s, end in death. As a result, if our focus is only on earthly things, fear can overwhelm us. However, despite the tragedy and pain we might suffer in this lifetime, our eternal status and reward are preserved. They are protected. If we focus on those things, we can better face our fears. We can even approach death as Paul did, understanding that even in bad situations we can reveal our loving and merciful God to those who observe us. And we can quote the words of Paul as our own, because they will truly describe us.

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Face Fear with Prayer

Fear is powerful. Fear can overwhelm us. It can make us doubt what we believe in the most. It can cause us to question what we’ve done and why we’ve done it. Fear can cause us to wonder if we’ve wasted our lives. Such was the case with John the Baptist. Imprisoned, he wondered if he had lived life appropriately. Unsure, he reached out to Jesus.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  – Matthew 11:2-5, ESV

The once godly iconoclast of the wilderness, the one called to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness in preparation for the coming of the Christ, wondered if his life had been worth it. Had he lived up to what he was supposed to? Had he pointed people to the right one, to the correct man who was Christ? That’s what fear can do. It can take someone so formerly strong in the faith and cause him to question everything he did. That’s why John did the only thing he could think to do, he sent messengers to reach out to Jesus.

Note that Jesus didn’t rebuke John’s lack of faith. He didn’t shake His head and deplore how weak John had become. He instead gave the right words to help John deal with his fear. The miracles were proof that John had pointed people to the Christ. Jesus answered John with the encouragement the imprisoned man needed.

When we’re afraid, no matter how powerful that emotion of fear, we always have the option of turning to God in prayer. We can’t send messengers to an earthly person like John did, but then again, we don’t have to involve a middleman. We can simply go to God directly. Jesus understands our fears. He can sympathize with them having come in the form of a man. Therefore, there is no shame, no rebuke, and no punishment to seeking God out when fear threatens to overwhelm us. 

Are you afraid? First, turn to God in prayer. Acknowledge how you feel. Don’t be afraid of a rebuke. If you’re honest with God, as John was, God will respond in a way to help you deal with that fear. There’s no guarantee that He’s going to alleviate you of the situation you’re in. After all, John only left prison upon his death. But God can provide the means for you to overcome that fear. However, you first must turn to Him in prayer.

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Facing Fear Under Our Own Power

Fear is uncomfortable. Because it is uncomfortable, we want to get rid of it. This means when we act, we have a desire to execute on whatever comes to mind first, in hopes that it will get rid of that feeling of fear. As a result, we may choose the wrong path. We may react in a way that is destructive. This is why, for the Christian, Jesus should be the foundation upon which we build our ability to face our fears. As Christians, we should always be turning to Him first. However, as Christians, we’re also sinners. Because we’re sinners, sometimes we don’t do as we ought. Here’s a great example:

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.  – Genesis 20:2, ESV

It’s easy to pile a lot of scorn on Abraham. After all, he basically offered his own wife on a half-truth for another man to take. He did it to preserve his own life. In this act, Abraham showed no trust in God. How could Abraham do this? Abraham could because he was a sinner, just like you and I are.

But Abraham is also the man who, in relatively old age, left his family and everything he knew and went on a journey with God. He obeyed God even though God didn’t provide a final destination, much less a detailed itinerary. He showed great acts of worship of the Lord God and it is obvious that Abraham had God as a priority in his life. In other words, Abraham could be looked at as among the best of us. Yet still he stumbled. 

In this particular situation, God bailed out Abraham and Sarah. Or more appropriately, God protected Abimelech. God kept Abimelech from sinning because of Abimelech’s faith in God. This indirectly preserved Sarah and kept Abraham from regretting his decision. But just imagine how things would have turned out if Abimelech wasn’t a godly man. Abraham and Sarah both would have regretted the violation of their marriage. And Abimelech and his people would have regretted the punishment delivered upon them because of their leader’s sin.

A potential chain of events like in this example is why Jesus should always be the first place we turn when we feel the tendrils of fear. Fear unchecked causes us to do things we wouldn’t do when we aren’t under its effects. If Abraham wasn’t consumed with fear, would he have made the same choice?  We would hope not. This is why building a strong and active relationship with Jesus is so important. This, coincidentally, is why Bible reading and memorization is crucial, too. The Words of Scripture are weapons against fear. The Holy Spirit can bring those words to our minds so we know that a path we  are heading down because we are afraid is not the correct path to take. 

Don’t rely on your own. When you feel fear, turn to God. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to start this, through prayer. But before we can get to the point of turning to God first, we must overcome our own desire to react to fear the way we do. We must be willing to be uncomfortable for a time in order to pursue the godly path.

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A Foundation to Overcome Fear

The military drills procedures over and over again. The idea is that in the event fear strikes, the brain and body has been trained to do a particular sequence of tasks. Even though the conscious thought process is frozen, a sailor, soldier, airman, or marine will fall back on what was learned and act accordingly. The military isn’t the only group that believes drilling over and over again is the way to go. We see this a lot with the top professional athletes. All of them are looking to build a foundation to be able to respond as they want to when they are in stressful situations, especially ones that cause the emotion of fear. So what about Christians?

Our foundation is, and always has been, Jesus Christ. When our foundation is a Person and not a procedure, we need to approach building the¬†foundation differently. It’s not about how many times I can recite a particular prayer. We’re warned against doing that. Nor is it about how many verses I memorize, at least, not directly. Instead of working on steps, we need to be working on relationship. The closer we are to Jesus, the stronger our foundation against fear.

And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” – Matthew 8:25, ESV

In this particular case the disciples were with our Lord. They were as close to Him as they could be. However, it goes beyond physical proximity. Note that they woke Him because they believed Jesus could save them. They believed their lives were on the line. And they believed He was the only one who could do something about it. How do you gain such confidence? The Bible tells us it’s about developing that relationship and getting to know and trust God more and more. When we try to fight fear with our own efforts, we can make things much worse than they are. Trusting God is essential.

Jacob learned that lesson when he was facing a reunion with Esau. Gideon learned it as God pared down his army to just 300 men. David learned it as he stayed one step ahead of Saul. The disciples learned it when Jesus calmed the water, when He appeared to them after His crucifixion, and when He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell in them. Paul learned it as he recovered from floggings and a stoning, as he faced a snake bite, as he was imprisoned, and as he went to preach a final sermon, to Nero, knowing that would be the end of his race.

The beginning of our ability to truly overcome fear in our lives starts with building up our relationship with Jesus Christ. This requires more than church attendance or a Bible study habit. This comes about through a genuine love for our Savior and a desire to put Him first in all things. It seems like everything with respect to the Christian walk comes back to those things. That’s because they do. Focus on Christ and not your own efforts. Tomorrow we’ll look at what happens when out of response to fear we resort to our own schemes. They don’t work. So let us focus on Jesus, who does.

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Fear Isn’t Uncommon

Recently, I replied to a friend’s post about fear with these words,

“I know who holds the future, but personal doubt easily creeps in.”

I know those are unusual words to read or hear within the Church. The reality is we all have fears. And there are times, despite our understanding that God is in control, when our fears overwhelm us. However, we have a bad habit when fellowshipping with other Christians of whitewashing our lives. We don’t talk about our challenges and our trials. We don’t share as openly as the Bible implores us to. As a result, we don’t share our fears. 

If you do a word study on fear or cowardice (the word Nave’s Topical Bible uses), you’ll find that it can sometimes be caused by sin. However, this isn’t always the case. One can be very close to God and still have fear. Here’s an example:

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”  – Matthew 8:23-25, ESV

I can’t fault the disciples for reacting as they did. If the waves were so great that they were tossing the boat around and crashing onto the deck, I’d have been scared, too. From these verses we can clearly tell they were afraid. Yet Jesus slept right there next to them. They were as close as you could get and yet fear overwhelmed them. 

My message for today isn’t to say that succumbing to fear is okay. Rather, it’s to point out that feeling fear is more common than we’d like to admit. Fear strikes the godly and ungodly. Fear can be due to sin and it can come because of natural circumstances. Fear is natural. Fear is an emotion. We might not have control when it comes to feeling an emotion. However, we do have control over how we react to that emotion. 

How we react is important. It determines if we demonstrate our trust in Jesus Christ or not. It determines how we live our lives. In the military, there are a lot of sayings about fear. One that has stuck with me is that “courage is not the absence of fear but acting appropriately in the face of it.” Over the next few days we’ll look at godly responses to fear. First, though, we have to admit to ourselves that fear is natural and that fear happens all the time. Don’t flagellate yourself because you feel fear. Accept that you’re going to have that emotion. And prepare yourself to react accordingly.

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