Wood you Altar that????

Job 8:7; “Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”
‘We must have the best’, ‘The production must be engaging’, ‘If people aren’t attracted to it, they won’t come’.  These are all lines that many of us have heard before, either in our work place or in our churches. But what is ‘the best’? What makes something ‘engaging’? What ‘attraction’ will ultimately draw people?

Recently, we have been spending some time looking at what God was doing in the first decade of the 20th century.  In 1904 in a small town called Loughor in South Wales, God was using a man called Evan Roberts. A 26 year old form collier was given incredible visions and a zeal to see the lost become found in Christ Jesus. This revival swept the nation and over 100,000 people were converted. A revival that saw unlearned men leave the coal mine after a long shift and then preaching with great eloquence at night. A revival that saw the Pit Ponies flummoxed and disorientated when they could no longer understand their masters directions due to the lack of curse words used. A revival that saw sight restored to girl that only had eye sockets. A revival that at its core started with the simple and humble prayer; ‘More Lord’. The church simply just asked the Lord for ‘more’. More of His Presence, more of His Power and more of His Spirit. People came because of what God was doing, not because the building or production looked like.

By the time 1906 arrived the Welsh revival, through various connections had spread to Los Angeles. More precisely, 312 Azusa Street. Originally constructed as an African Methodist Episcopal Church in what was then a black ghetto part of town. The rent was $8.00 per month. A newspaper referred to the downtown Los Angeles building as a “tumble down shack”. Since the church had moved out, the building had served as a wholesale house, a warehouse, a lumberyard, stockyards, a tombstone shop, and had most recently been used as a stable with rooms for rent upstairs. It was a small, rectangular, flat-roofed building, approximately 60 feet long and 40 feet wide, sided with weathered whitewashed clapboards. Discarded lumber and plaster littered the large, barn-like room on the ground floor. Nonetheless, it was secured and cleaned in preparation for services. They held their first meeting on April 14, 1906. Church services were held on the first floor where the benches were placed in a rectangular pattern. Some of the benches were simply planks put on top of empty nail kegs. There was no elevated platform, as the ceiling was only eight feet high. Initially there was no pulpit. Frank Bartleman, an early participant in the revival, recalled that “Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there…. In that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors…” Furthermore, the Altar was a single piece of wood resting on two chairs. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT IN A WESTERN CHURCH TODAY???

I suggest for your thoughts today that we consider what it means to ‘Have the best’. I am not opposed to churches with large campuses and well-kept buildings with their nice furnishings. Many have diligent spiritual man and women exercising their great gift of stewardship in them. But seldom do we find great moves of God having their genesis in a palace. It is much more like God to use a stable. Great things in God often start with humble beginnings…..

Some Heights Are Asphyxiating…

Hab 2:4a; “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him.”
I recently took a family holiday that had me spending a fortnight back home in the North-East of England. Going back to see my family, eating a ton of mainly bland savory foods along with as much chocolate and candy I can inhale before my cheeks turn a pale shade of green is always a highlight for me. Being in the English countryside surrounded by sheep, cows and horses that roam the undulating vibrant green hills that are occasionally peppered with churches that are often over one thousand years old; seems to cultivate a tranquil environment unlike any other. One of my favorite things to do is to visit these old churches and walk around their graveyards and walk their naves. Whether it is surveying the weather-beaten-tombs outside or the glorious masonic craftsmanship inside, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of awe. 
It was on one of these outings that I visited Durham Cathedral. This is my home county cathedral that stands high above the city that has a rich history of around one thousand years. County Durham, the place of this magnificent structure is known as the “Land of the Prince Bishops”. Such was its seat of power in the 7th, 8th and 9th Century, one of its later bishops said: “There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham.” Having ‘Prince Bishops’ enthroned such as Aldhun, Antony Bek, Thomas Hatfield and N.T. Wright, the Diocese of County Durham has always carried ecclesiastical influence in England.
On this particular visit as I walked down the nave, through the quire and onto the altar, my attention was brought to the ‘Bishop’s Throne’. This is a chair that has its own staircase and is situated above the quire, where the choir would sing with the accompaniment of the largest organ I have ever seen. This throne (in terms of altitude) is the highest throne in all of Christendom. My sense of ‘wow’ and ‘awe’ were quickly replaced with a sense of dread. I now found myself standing in one of the greatest cathedrals in all of Europe, which has been a seat of power and self-rule, a place where the remains of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are housed and that has a library that has three copies of Magna Carta. Scriptures of self-exaltation and pride started to flood my heart. Oh, the dangers that will destroy a man, a place or city when it exalts itself.
I was reminded of a man called Diotrephes in the Third Letter of John. A man who loved to have preeminence amongst men. He loved to be first. He was the kind of man that would not sit at the lowliest seat at a table and wait to be called up to a greater seat; but would take the seat of honor at a feast, even if it was reserved for someone more distinguished than himself. In a time where self-promotion is expected, let us not elevate ourselves. Let us not make for ourselves high and exalted thrones to sit in. Some heights are asphyxiating….
Jesus said this; “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”