Monday, July 10, 2017

The Two Altars

Nathan Metz, Missionary, Uganda

Nathan Metz and his two oldest children kneel on the altar he made out of an old church pew.“That one is for the men. This for the women. Those two smaller ones, the children.”

Dusk was just minutes away, and we had a muddy van ride ahead; it was time to get going, you might say. I didn’t take time to soak in the vision to my right. We moved along the path through the marsh, returning the same way we’d wandered in about an hour ago. 

I saw the tarps the first time when they were on my left, but I thought nothing of them. They appeared to be covering rocks—flat on the top with little jars and vessels tucked in around the base. As a new missionary, I knew very little about this place, just enough to feel fear. I trusted our pastors—a couple Kenyans and a few Ugandans—assuming they knew what they were doing since they were acting like guides. 

They picked up the pace, so I followed suit. One turned to me as we scrambled back to our van, “Those altars, they are for sacrifice,” she whispered from the corner of her mouth while she glanced quickly over my shoulder back in the direction from which we had come. She then gathered her dress and turned with a small wave of the hand to keep me close.

Several years earlier, I stumbled across an altar of a very different kind. This altar has a story that began with a wedding. Floyd was a young man who waited nervously at the front of a small chapel in central Indiana. His fiancé, Alberta, stepped happily down the aisle in a beautiful white gown. 

Over 50 years later, a pew from that wedding chapel was strapped in the back of a red pickup while my father and I sketched out a plan to give the wood a second life. We kept the beautiful curves and notable features of the pew in plain view while thoughtfully piecing together something functional and strong. When finished, it looked like a kneeler...an altar. Its old pew shape still trimmed the sides and the top on the right and left. 

While we were building, we knelt together, holding the top before it was fastened while we marked and measured and tried to get the spacing and angle comfortably correct. We used strong door hinges underneath to keep it from buckling, and we supported the whole thing firmly against the floor with our attempt at hidden feet. It ended up at my house. I prayed there many times.

There is no mistaking the vast difference between these two altars—one meant for evil, another meant for good. However, with all their differences, I find the similarities quite fascinating. Both altars are cared for as designated, sacred places. Both are intended to connect humanity with the supernatural. In both cases, humans approach the altar with sincerity, most always confident and expectant. I suspect Elijah saw this, too, on Mount Carmel as he faced the prophets of Baal. Two altars—vast in difference, striking in similarity.

In my ministry, I desire to see the lost come to the altar and seek the Lord in prayer. Yet, there is a great work that must occur before any man or woman comes to the altar of God. Before we kneel at a new altar, we must leave the one we’ve been using. A battle over the soul begins every time a person kneels at the altar of God before they’ve left their other altars. In the marshes of Uganda, in the twilight of that memorable day, I realized that my work in missions was somewhere between two altars—the death and the second life.

PRAY: The chains that keep people from a life of freedom in Christ can be blatantly obvious or hidden and secret. Pray for Nathan and others involved in sharing this message of freedom, that the power of Jesus will reach past the barriers that keep people from Him. 
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