Built Any Alters Lately?

When the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had some kind of encounter with God they would pile together some rocks, sometimes just one rock, call it an alter, and give it a name connecting the place with the Lord. The rock that Jacob used as a pillow became Bethel, the house of God. The alter served as a place of remembrance for the individual of the promises God made to them. Jacob came full circle at one point in his life and the alter served him well. He could look back and see the faithfulness of his God. Do you have one of these?

When the Israelites crossed into the promised land, after 40 years of being led by God through the desert because of their lack of faith, they piled up some rocks and called them alters. They were told by God that when their kids and grandkids asked what those piles of rocks were for, that they were to tell them of the marvelous works that the Lord did on behalf of his people. Why? Because those kids and grandkids weren’t there. They didn’t participate in the Red Sea crossing. They didn’t see the pillar of fire and cloud that guided and protected the people. They didn’t eat the manna or drink water from a rock. But they had those alters to point to, to serve as a kind of connection to their shared history. The problem was that, these second and third generation Israelites didn’t know the Lord themselves. The book of Judges is a 400-some year testimony to this. Each generation needed to have their own experience and encounter with the Lord. The first generation had those common experiences and it held them together. Subsequent generations needed that foundation. They also needed their own to keep them together and keep them close to the Lord.

We are beginning to see the same kind of thing happen in CCs with respect to second and third generation pastors. We weren’t there for the original tent days. We never saw the old chapel. We didn’t experience the afterglow meetings. We didn’t experience the concerts. Who’s LoveSong? Who’s Mustard Seed Faith? What’s a Lonnie Frisbee? What’s a Mansion Messiah? And why is Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in Santa Ana?

Mike Macintosh, Greg Laurie, Don McLure, and the rest of the crew from the Harvest book were there for those days, as were many others who were not in the book. They saw their Red Sea, pillar of cloud and fire, ate of the manna and drank from the rock. Their churches and ministries are built, to a certain extent, on their experiences with the Lord in those days, as is the modern CC movement. I consider myself generation 2 or 2.5. I like the stories. They are encouraging. They are a source of strength. If God did it for them He can do it for me. At the same time it isn’t enough for me to see these alters and hear the stories. I need to have my own experiences with the Lord. I need to have my own alters. If I had a group of guys with me, all of us experiencing the same stuff, we could have our own Harvest book. Not for the sake of having a book, but for the sake of my own ministry and walk with the Lord.

As I’ve been taking the youth group through Genesis I’ve been highlighting the alters the patriarchs made, communicating to them the need for them to have their own experiences with the Lord, their own alters. They can’t have their parents faith, nor can they simply have a religious faith based on a Judeo-Christian ethic, and expect to experience the life the Lord wants and has for them. They need their own thing. They also need it as a group. So do I. Every day.

The thing that is a danger to us as second and third generation CC pastors is the same thing that makes us feel disconnected from the history, makes us feel like we aren’t a part of things. We need to have our own Red Sea, our own pillar of cloud and fire, our own manna and water, our own tent, our own chapel, our own Lonnie, our own LoveSong, as individuals and as groups. It’s been said that those days were unique. They were. Why? There were only a handful of guys then. Now there are about 1,000 of us. We can’t expect that same kind if intimacy, that same kind of shared experience that makes the good old days the good old days.

So what will give us a sense of belonging, of cohesion? I don’t think that we can expect the things that gave the first gen guys their cohesion to give the second and third gen guys the same thing, simply because of sheer numbers. It’s going to take more of an effort, more deliberateness on the part of us pastors to bring about that belonging. We are going to have to have our own experiences with the Lord, build our own alters, and then share those experiences with others. While this isn’t the total answer to the dilemma, I think it’s a major part of the puzzle.

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© Corby Stephens 2005-2018