You Shall Make an Altar for Me

It fascinates me how a person can read scripture devotedly, and yet the significance of some texts elude us, until — one day, all the grooves in the brain are ready to see, believe and obey!  In an earlier blog, I shared with my readers that I am writing a handbook for those who might like to lead small groups reading through the Bible with the “This is Life Eternal” Bible reading guide.  As I prepared the lesson plan for the Week #6 assignment, I came across Ex. 20:24 and for the first time it sank in and hit it’s target!!!  I said to myself, “HOW DID I MISS THAT!!”  I want to share this verse from different versions.

The NASB reads:  “You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I WILL COME TO YOU AND BLESS YOU.”

The KJV reads:  “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in all places where I record My name, I will come unto thee and I WILL BLESS THEE.”

My personal favorite is the New Living Translation version:  “The altars you make for Me must be simple altars of earth.  Offer on such altars your sacrifices to Me–your burnt offerings and peace offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle.  Build altars in the places <em>where I remind you Who I am, </em>and I will come and bless you there.”

There are instructions also for building their altars with stones, but apparently they could use whatever was nearest at hand:  dirt, or stones.   The place they were to build an altar is what is significant to me.  It should be at the places where God reminded <em>us of Who He is!!   </em>

As I think back over my life, there are many instances when God clearly revealed His presence and His power.  My father was an evangelist, well seasoned in his spiritual calling by the time my memories emerge from my personal past.   Dad was the baby of 12 siblings in Houston, Texas.  Three of the older children were already married with children of their own before he was born!

Even though the family planted gardens and preserved food, the supply didn’t seem to last through the winter.  There were long periods of time when the family subsisted on cow’s milk, soda crackers and sugar.  By the time Dad was  a teenager, he had some serious stomach problems.  Doctors did not have the wonderful medicines that are available today, and the ulcers in his stomach pained him frequently and finally constantly.

I can remember his groans from the pain.  Doctors would say that he needed to rest and relieve his body of stress as much as possible.   So he followed their orders, but left his bed to meet all the preaching commitments on his calendar.   Here is how God showed Who He is:  when Dad entered the pulpit to give the message, his pain left him and until he had finished greeting the people after the sermon he appeared to be pain free.  But as soon as that was done, the pain returned.

As a little child I was aware that God was giving my father the strength to preach God’s Word.  He was one of the most gifted people I have ever seen in his ability to maintain a one-on-one effect with huge audiences – a mighty Man of God!  Looking back now in adulthood, those times that God freed him from the debilitating pain so that his thoughts full of Truth could flow were awesome evidences that God exists, and the end goal is to “educate the public.”  I Peter 3:19-22 and 2 Peter 2:4-6 reveals a God Who shared the Gospel with every human being, in every age, who will listen, obey and be saved.

But someone must “go” and “give” the message and God protects His messengers.  He certainly enabled my dad to function in the capacity of a messenger for over twenty years.  Looking back every time God acted, and Dad was miraculously pain free in the pulpit, I wish we had built an altar in each of those towns with an inscription honoring the God of Heaven.

The final awesome part of this promise from God is that HE WILL MEET US THERE at the altars we erect in His honor.

Now the chief purpose of an altar in Old Testament times was to worship God by offering sacrifices which represented the coming Messiah.  Since Christ died and became the <em>real </em>sacrifice in our behalf, the offerings bring today are a surrendered heart and cheerfully given tithes and offerings.    Instead of seeing God’s fire descend to burn up our offerings, we sense His presence in the blessing of congregational worship, or as we come before Him in personal devotional time.  In addition are the times when we realize God’s intervention in our lives.

We live out in the country where there is a river, very tall trees, a fair amount of snakes and everything that Mother Nature offers to make a wonderful place for children grow up.   Our four children were 7, 8(the only girl), 11 and 12 when we moved here.   Our eldest son, Todd, has a joyfully adventurous spirit and at that age it drove him to swing on vines from tree to tree, and to climb trees.  There is a very tall, very stately cypress tree about 100 yards behind our house.  During our first summer in this house, Todd decided to climb the closest cypress tree.  When he was comfortably lying nestled in the tip-top branches of the tree, he screamed for me to come look!  It was an unusual scream, so I ran to the back porch check it out.  He called down to me proclaiming excitedly how beautiful the view was from his 60-ft. high leafy nest!!  I of course screamed right back to get down from there N-O-W!!!  So he obediently came down.

Later as I worked in the house, I glanced out the window which looked right toward that cypress tree.  I saw a human missile hurtling toward earth and realized it was the bright blue T-shirt Todd was wearing — it was my son’s body falling!

Cypress knees protrude from the ground at the bottom of cypress trees.  Had he landed atop one of them, I have no doubt that it would have cost his life.  The ground, while not actually wet, was quite soft so that when he landed on his side, the bright blue shirt became vertically half dark brown.  Although it was July and very hot, he had chills and crawled into a sleeping bag.  He did not get a spanking, for I knew he was already suffering for disobeying me.

The other miracle is that he had nailed little strips of wood to the tree so his little brother, Chris, and sister, Mauri, could climb up the tree and see the same view he had been privileged to see!  As he was putting up the last strip of wood and raised the hammer to strike the nail, he lost his balance and started to fall about 40′ to the ground.  Trying to grab on to something to break the fall, he let go of the hammer which fell right toward his siblings who by now were part way up the tree!   Neither Todd, nor the hammer hit the little ones, for which I was very thankful.  They were able to scramble back down the tree to safety, – or so I thought all these years.

Recently Mauri was home with her three little ones and we were reminiscing about Todd’s great fall!  She told me something I had not known.   From above her, she heard Todd exclaim something as he began to fall and then as his body whizzed by her, it actually made a rushing whirring sound which scared her so badly, she froze.  Beneath her, also clinging to the tree,  was Chris, our youngest son.  Todd’s breath was knocked out of him, of course, and it took a bit for him to gather his senses and climb back up the tree to help Chris down, and then make another trip up to help Mauri to safety.

You see, I saw Todd’s body hurtling downward, but then the dense underbrush hid all three children from view.  (Rob, our second son, was away at Camp Kulaqua for Junior Camp at the time of this incident.)

When new friends come to our house, the story they most frequently hear is how God saved Todd’s life that day, now 38 years ago.  I have thought many times that I should have built an altar at the bottom of that cypress tree, for God surely made me aware that He is the One who saves us and keeps us and sends angels to protect.  On that altar, I would inscribe a tribute of PRAISE to my God!  For had Todd landed on a cypress knee, or if his hammer or his body had slammed into his younger siblings on the way down, we might have lost three of our children that day.

Maybe the tree itself is equivalent to an altar when we share the story with others and give glory to God.  Through the years many visitors  have commented to me that they feel the peace of God in our home.  While this particular story was not always known to them, they still sensed God’s presence.   Hardly a day goes by that I don’t look at that tree with thoughts of gratitude to God rushing into my soul.  God said He would meet us at the “altars” we erect, and I believe He has blessed this home because we give the glory to Him for His saving power and presence.

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