The Altar of an Unknown God

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Acts 17:18-23

“…I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.”

altar of the unknown God

In this setting the Apostle Paul has fled from Thessalonica as devout Jews began to stir up strife regarding Paul’s message that Jesus was the Christ. In the haste to evacuate, Paul and Silas are separated as Paul heads into Athens to escape the persecution. While in Athens Paul becomes stirred by the amount of idolatry in this city. He began to dispute with the Jews in Athens on this matter and he caught the ear of some people there. The Bible says there were two sects of people who were hanging around the synagogues, the Epicureans and the Stoics.

History tells us that the Epicurean philosophers generally believed that God existed, however they believed that He was not interested or involved with humanity. Because of this stance they adopted a mentality that believed pleasure was the main purpose of life. In simple terminology these Epicureans basically worshiped themselves. This ideology is still alive and well today!

ON the other side you had the Stoic philosophers, these men held to the perspective that “God was the world’s soul” and that the goal of life was to “rise above all things”. Because of their belief system Stoics showed no emotional response to either pain or pleasure. These 2 groups along with other small groups loved to get their differing worldviews together to discuss and debate philosophy and religion. And upon hearing what they called Paul’s “babbling” they invited Paul to Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill.

Mars’ Hill is the Roman name for a hill in Athens, Greece called the Hill of Ares, or the Areopagus. Ares was the Greek god of war and according to Greek Mythology this hill was the place where Ares stood trial before the other gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. Mars’ Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. And scripture tells us that it was here where the philosophers of Greece gathered to hear this “new doctrine” of Paul.

As Paul surveyed this region, he discovered a horrifying reality. Although these men were quite intelligent, and although they were among some of the most devout people he had ever met; their world was explained with one inscription. As Paul beheld the the altar of their worship, the inscription simply read “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. And Paul said it is this God whom ye ignorantly worship! The word ignorant doesn’t mean stupid as one might think, rather it speaks of the lack of understanding or knowledge. What Pal was saying to these men that day is this, “you worship a God you do not know”!

What I found fascinating is the word used in this text for unknown is the Greek word agnostos, meaning unknown or forgotten. It is where we get our word agnostic from. Many people in our world misunderstand the word agnostic, they unfortunately assume that atheism and agnosticism are one and the same. That is not true. Atheists deny the existence of deity. Agnostics believe that nothing can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; these people neither claim faith nor disbelief in God. In other words, God is unknown because God is unknowable.

I fear there are too many Christians worshiping at the altar of an unknown God…

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well “true worshipers; worship the Father in spirit and in truth”! God is not interested in people who will only worship Him because of what they feel! God is looking for a people who will worship Him because they know Him! As Jesus prayed to the Father not long before the crucifixion he prayed, The prophet Hosea, prophesying to the post-Calvary era, exclaimed in Hosea 4:16, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”

 It was when I read Hosea’s prophecy that I entered an unusual paradox. I began to wonder, “if it was a tree of knowledge that man was forbidden to touch, how then could man be destroyed for something they never should’ve had?”

The word knowledge in Hebrew means to perceive or to discern. It refers to the opening of the mind and spirit to understand the things around you. The reason Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat that fruit was because knowledge would open the door to sin. Before they ate that fruit they had neither perception or discernment regarding the spiritual forces of Hell, because in the garden discernment wasn’t needed. However when man fell, his eyes were opened and they knew not just the good, they knew evil as well.

So when Hosea looked through the lens of prophecy and began prophesying to our generation, he said “My people will be destroyed for the lack of spiritual discernment.” Hosea was prophesying of a time when God’s people would no longer be able to recognize the difference between what is of God and what is of Hell.

Hosea spoke of a generation who would no longer take a stand against anything, but would rather seek to understand it.

And so like Adam and Eve far too many “Christians” stand around forbidden fruit, asking questions like “what’s wrong with this?” Whats wrong with going there?” Where in the Bible does it say that is a sin?” And we have unknowingly opened the door for the influences of Hell to walk right into our lives and to begin to entice us! All the while we ignorantly and arrogantly worship at the altar of an unknown God.

The reason Paul was so adamant about this is because of what preceded Acts 17. In Acts 16 a devil began following Paul around proclaiming to the world, “these men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” This girl was saying the right things, but she operated from the wrong spirit! And Paul turned and rebuked that devil out of her. 

You might be wondering, “what’s so wrong with what she did?” On the surface it appears that she was just telling the truth, but Paul discerned the intent of the devil! This devil wasn’t interested in propagating their mission or their message! He was trying to get access to it! He knew if he could ever appear connected to them, then his influence over their followers would increase!

There is a spirit loose in our world that is seeking to connect itself to our movement through flattery and compliments. And our ignorant and arrogant ways have given the devil access and influence over our people!

In today’s world everybody is Pentecostal. And the Oneness Apostolic movement has begun to buy into the hypocrisy! And I refuse to sit back and watch my peers continue to worship at the altar of an unknown God! The united Pentecostal movement is not an exclusive movement. We are not a strict social club with regulated rules and guidelines. We want everybody to experience Pentecost! However, there is still only one way through the door! And unless a man is born again of the water and of the spirit he cannot enter nor see the kingdom of heaven!

If we don’t learn who we are and what we believe, we are in danger of becoming just another denomination of the world! It is not our worship that makes us different, it is not our preaching that makes us different; it is our doctrine that makes us different! And I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation!

Wake up Apostolics! Hear the voice of God ringing this night, “my people are being destroyed for a lack of spiritual discernment!”

Will we continue to haphazardly worship at this altar of an unknown God? Or will something inside of our hearts be drawn to a relationship with Jesus like never before?

“The people that do KNOW their God, shall be strong and do exploits!”

Don’t let your Valley become your Grave

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Ezekiel 37:1

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones”

Ezekiel 37:12

“Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.”

When we read Ezekiel’s experiences with the Lord this day, we are captured by the wonder of God’s sovereignty! The Bible tells us that God literally took Ezekiel to this valley, carried him by His hands! Ezekiel’s proclamation that the hand of the Lord was upon him indicates the essential nature of genuine relationship with the Lord. Genesis records the events of creation as we see the spoken word of God move across the vastness of darkness and bring life into a lifeless planet. In this process of creation God decided that the creation of man would be a different. Not only would the spoken word (the breath of God) be needed to create man, but God set a precedent when he began to form man out of the dust of the earth with His own hands. It is no longer just God’s word at work, but God got his hands involved!

The greatest indicator of your relationship with God will not be solely based upon the word’s influence in your life. With so many denominational persuasions in our world, the only way for God’s people to shine in a dark world is to allow God’s word and God’s hand to lead us! In contrast to traditional Christianity, the apostolic movement can not afford to become intellectual. Although I believe in education, Ezekiel could have never experienced revival with a sermon! But once the hand of God was upon him, Ezekiel began to prophesy! I’m asked on a regular basis, by people who do not understand Christianity let alone Pentecost, it must be hard to get a new sermon every week right? My response is always the same, it’s not hard because I pray for God to give me the word I need. I pray for the hand of God to empower me, not to sermonize but to prophecy!

Once the hand of the Lord carries Ezekiel to this valley of bones, there is an interesting transition in just 12 short verses. What began as an attempt to awaken an army from the valley, ends with God assuring Ezekiel that He will in fact open their graves. Often we miss this critical transition as we scurry through the chapter trying to fulfill another day’s Bible reading. However, we must take a moment and understand what the Bible is really teaching. You see these people were once living thriving beings, they were God’s people. Yet over time these people found themselves in a valley.

Perhaps the most overstated observation in Christianity is simply “becoming a Christian doesn’t mean life will be easy”. So for the sake of beating a dead horse allow me to approach this from a slightly different angle. Of course we all know that there are valley’s in life, perhaps most of us feel like we’re in one now! However, it is in these valley’s where life can sometimes take an unfortunate turn. You see we are all programmed to believe that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel; that every valley leads to a mountain top. But it’s when the light never shines or the mountain is never reached where we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture.

Wait, I can already hear you say “are you saying I may never come out of this?”. That’s not at all what I’m saying. But look at Joseph for a moment, how do you think he felt after 20 years? Yet there was something that would never allow him to give up on his dreams even though reality told him it was over. So what is the missing factor that prevents people from giving up in the valley and succumbing to the haunting cries of the adversary telling it’s too late? What is the key to holding on through seemingly unbearable trials and unfortunate circumstances? What can prevent me from allowing my valley to become my grave?

John the Baptist’s ministry was critical to the New Testament. John single-handedly prepared the way of the Lord, by fulfilling his calling of destiny. John was the first to recognize His deity by proclaiming in the Jordan river “Behold, the lamb of God!” Yet John , after doing the will of God mind you, found himself in a prison awaiting his death. Imagine the thoughts that John entertained as he sat there day after day. The weight of this “valley” almost proved to be too much for this anointed prophet to bear. John sends disciples to Jesus asking him an odd question. “Are you he, or should we look for another?” Are you he? John you know better than anybody who He is! As a baby in your mother’s womb you leaped at His presence! As a successful prophet you declared that there’s one coming after me who is preferred before me! You told the people that His shoes, you weren’t worthy to unloose! You preached the kingdom of heaven is at hand, knowing that this Jesus was not just another prophetic figure in the history of religion, but that He was God manifest in the flesh! But now all John sees are the walls of his prison, and he is questioning everything he’s ever believed was right!

Jesus, understanding the position John is in, responds to these disciples by confirming His deity: “The blind can see, the deaf can hear and the dead are raised to life again!” That would’ve been enough for John, but as John’s disciples were about to walk away, Jesus gave them one last message to take to John in the prison. Oh and tell John, “blessed is the man, who shall not be offended in me.” Wait, John never said he was offended? But Jesus knew something we mostly have a hard time admitting, sometimes the valley is offensive.

Proverbs 18:19

“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

Wow! An offended spirit is destructive! Offense causes you to close off your emotions and you become cold and callused. King Saul loved David as his own son, yet one song changed everything. The ringing of “Saul has killed his thousands and David has killed his ten thousands” haunted Saul every waking moment. Before Saul became offended, David’s harp brought peace into his life. After the offense however, as David played that harp, Saul launched a javelin his direction hoping to kill the man he used to love. It was an offended spirit that led Saul down a deranged path of poor choices. Because offended people are consumed with one thing, getting even! How, you may wonder, does this apply to my valley? Nobody has done me wrong, nobody has offended me! Allow me to explain…

Perhaps nobody knows valley’s quite like Job. The Bible said he was a perfect man, one who eschewed evil and daily he made sacrifices for his children. Yet one day out of nowhere Job’s life is turned upside down. His children are dead, his servants are dead, his cattle stolen, his possessions gone. In a matter of moments Job had absolutely nothing. Everyone close to him accused him of some wrongdoing, as if the trauma of life wasn’t difficult enough. His won wife told him to just curse God and die already; all the while the only reprieve Job found was in a broken piece of pottery.

Job himself vented his frustrations in Job 23 exclaiming “Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments… Behold, I go forward but he is not there; and backward, but i cannot perceive him: On the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that i cannot see him!” Job’s trial had finally forced him to get offended in God it seems. It looks as if Job may finally be on the verge of cursing god and dying! It looks as if the valley has established another epitaph of a fallen child of God!

Yet as Job’s words poured out of his heart, the devil was not prepared for what Job said next! Job admitted his frustrations, he acknowledged that he’s so lost he can’t find God anywhere! Yet before Job allows an offended spirit to engulf him Job counters with this… “But He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job how can you say something like that after everything you’ve been through? How can you be so sure that God will bring you out of this valley? Job continued, “My foot hath held his steps, his way have i kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandments of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.”

Job didn’t allow his valley to become a grave, because Job didn’t allow his spirit to get offended in the valley. If you are in a valley today, hold on to God’s promises! Allow His word to nourish your soul, and most importantly never allow your spirit to get offended!

Proverbs 19:11 ESV

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Psalm 119:165

“Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.”