May 28, 2023

That is not a typo.

Research data shows that because the percentage of regular church-goers is diminishing weekly, congregations have upped their marketing game to get the unchurched masses through their doors. First-time visitors get bags of free gifts, while church services are designed to offer comfort and convenience—“no purchase necessary.” Happy faces, beaming from church billboard ads, extend an unreserved welcome with almost giddy enthusiasm: “Everyone is someone special!! Come as you are!!” Some folks take that to mean, “Come in your pajamas, if you want!” And, they do, as they stream through the doors singing “Just as I am …“

But the problem is not in the Church making sinners feel welcome—it is when it makes them feel comfortable. As-is. When the marching orders given at the end of the service are simply “As you were … feel free to hit the reset button on your way out.” Leaving the lost unchanged. Unmended. Unmoved. UnALTARED. When the Church lets you come broken, only to let you leave exactly as you came, then the Church has let you down.

The Church is not designed to be a cocktail lounge—where we occasionally go to relax, enjoy live music that gives us good feels, and have our emotions lightly stirred and our spirits lifted. No—the Church should look more like a hospital. A safe place for the sick, the sinner, and the scarred to come running to Jesus, The ONLY HEALER—where wounds are cleansed, cancers removed, sometimes pain inflicted, but LIFE restored. NEW life. I’m glad it IS. Just that.

But, for some, the Church seems to be the only “hospital” where it’s considered okay to leave as sick and wounded as you came. Think about that—imagine going to a hospital deathly ill and never expecting there to be a CHANGE in your condition while there, or in your lifestyle after. “Come as you are; leave as you came” would make a poor marketing slogan for a hospital, and it should never be the motto of the Church. We are NOT okay “as-is.” Rather … time spent at the altar, in the presence of Jesus, should render you forever changed. Transformed. “ALTARED.”

Generally, the Biblical altar is considered to be a place of surrender, sacrifice, and consecration—and so it is today. In each case, whoever comes TO the altar should be prepared to leave differently FROM the altar. The past life is surrendered, the present broken life is sacrificed, and the future life is consecrated to God’s full control. In a word: TRANSFORMED. If the altar has done its perfect work, it is impossible to leave it unchanged. But, CHANGE is a CHOICE; the person at the altar must be prepared to change. God makes the change, but we make the choice.

Jesus said: “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever (chooses to lose) his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33 NKJV)

God so loved the world that He paid the price for EVERYONE to have access to His transforming love. ACCESS. It’s not automatic. In this way, God’s love is NOT unconditional. It’s freely offered—but the transformative benefits of that love are conditioned NOT on His willingness, but on our choice to access it through obedience to His Word. When we say: “NOT MY will, but THINE be done.” Yes, GOD is LOVE—but—GOD is HOLY. He will never compromise one for the other.

Jesus is clear: “If you love me, (then) keep my commandments.” (John 14:15 NKJV)

There are times in the Bible when the altar served yet another purpose: as a memorial—a visual reminder of a life-changing encounter with God. Our altar experience should be the same to us: an enduring landmark—a pivot point in our life. The moment that we remember forever—when our heart, soul, and spirit were eternally ALTARED. For GOOD. If there’s no change, then there is no ALTAR. Some have asked, “How many life-changing experiences can you have in one lifetime?” The answer is: you only need ONE—just ONE that truly forever ALTARs your life.

The altar of the Old Testament had horns. Today, the ALTAR has arms. When you approach it, you’re walking straight into the Everlasting Arms of Jesus—and if your heart is prepared, you’ll NEVER be the same again.

Prayer: “Dear LORD, what we need is an old-fashioned ALTAR CALL—that pulls at our hearts—makes us desperate for change—and causes us to long to be like YOU! For EVER! I’m ready to respond. Amen.”