Building an altar - pt 4
Pt 4 Stone-cold cathedral or living sacrifice!
Posted by Chris Scott (Senior Leader Bridge Church)
Rome is a beautiful and history packed city. I remember a few years back, Usha and I spent some time there on a short summer break. We had a wonderful time there, despite the weather, which according to the local guy in the restaurant hit an all time high of 44 degrees on one day!! Phew what a scorcher!! No trains cancelled though!
During our trip, we did a lot of walking! We visited all the usual hotspots, such as the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Vatican. I must say, walking through the Sistine Chapel peering up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling was an amazing experience. It even inspired me get my lounge ceiling repainted at home, although I am sure it took a lot more than a tin of Dulux and a roller to do what Michelangelo did!
There are hundreds of Basilicas and churches throughout the city, and it feels like they inhabit every corner. Everywhere we turned there were ornate stone carvings, elaborate and ostentatious murals, mosaics and paintings. These great stone edifices were packed too! Apparently 25,000 people visit the Vatican every day! Our tour was more like a cattle drive. Two hours of solid humanity flowing through the chambers and chapels. And did I mention it was hot!!
In the cool of our air-conditioned hotel I reflected on what we had seen, and was aware of two distinct emotions. One was a genuine sense of awe and astonishment at the amazing skill and dedication shown by the builders and artists who created such beautifully decorated buildings. The other however was a little more sober!
Such attention to detail, such energy, such dedication, such creativity; but all channelled into what? Bricks and mortar, with a slap of plaster and a dash of paint? Was this the best that man could offer God? These so-called ‘holy’ buildings may well have represented the pinnacle of human ingenuity and creativity, but it was all about externals, and the formalities of religion. Admirable and impressive for sure, but to me it seemed all that passion and energy was sadly misdirected. Maybe at the time those buildings were conceived, designed, and built they represented an act of worship for those concerned. In fact, I am sure Michelangelo and his fellow builders all felt they were channelling their talents to glorify God. However, sadly it seems that centuries later people tend to admire the architecture rather than glorify the God who they were dedicated to, and who was supposed to inhabit them.
sadly it seems that centuries later people tend to admire the architecture rather than glorify the God who they were dedicated to
Buildings are great, even David wanted to honour God with a building. They are not unimportant to God, because it is he himself who gives Israel some very detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle, and the temple. However, they have never been God's ideal location to meet with his people. God does not dwell in bricks and mortar, and what saddened me as we looked around all those churches in Rome, was that it represented man’s genuine attempt to build a place worthy for God to dwell, when the only accommodation that God has ever desired resides in the human heart!
what saddened me as we looked around all those churches in Rome, was that it represented man’s genuine attempt to build a place worthy for God to dwell, when the only accommodation that God has ever desired resides in the human heart!
The Apostle Paul felt the same way too, when he saw the temples in Athens. This is what he said in Acts 17 “people of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. for as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown God. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what i am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands’.
In Acts 7:48 Stephens last words to the Sanhedrin before they killed him were ‘the most high does not live in houses made by human hands. as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’
Stephen goes on to say ‘What kind of house will you build for me?’ This is a rhetorical question of course. There is no real estate on the planet that God wants, because it all belongs to him anyway. God wants the real estate of our heart. I was really challenged by this because we all do it, don’t we? We think that if we can impress God with our best efforts, then maybe he will be pleased with us, and be good to us. We make the mistake of thinking that what impresses man will also impress God. This misses the heart of God completely.
We think that if we can impress God with our best efforts, then maybe he will be pleased with us, and be good to us. We make the mistake of thinking that what impresses man will also impress God. This misses the heart of God completely.
In Paul or Stephen’s day none of these cathedrals existed. I wonder what they would have thought of them if they had. Perhaps more pertinent, what would they think about our modern attempts to create a space worthy for God. Giving our best is not always the same as giving God what he wants. I mean God can sneeze a cathedral into existence whenever he wishes to, but what he won’t do is create a heart devoted to him. That must come from you and me!
God wants more than just your Sunday best!! Worship is more than just a bit of allocated time for your devotions. He doesn’t want formalities or religious etiquettes. He wants to be at the heart of your life. Ezekiel talks about ‘replacing a heart of stone with a heart of flesh’. Religion is made of stone but worship is made of spirit. Even back then God was looking for flesh not stone!
If you have a heart of stone towards God then no amount of ornate carving will ever make it acceptable. It’s still just stone!
If you have a heart of stone towards God then trust me, no amount of ornate carving will ever make it acceptable. It’s still just stone! Just like those buildings in Rome, all form, and no life. What will you give him? A stone-cold cathedral or a living sacrifice.