John Gray - Where Is Your Altar?
You know, I've been preaching for 20 years now, and I don't know how many sermons I've preached and, you know, I've been here now for close to, it'll be two years in January officially, and I'm grateful to God for what he's been doing in my family. But I think tonight's message, to me, is probably one of the most important messages I've ever preached in my life. And for those who know me, you know my heart. You know my commitment to the kingdom. I'm asking that you kind of put your ears on on a whole 'nother level tonight, kind of lean into your seat, just kind of scoot in. If you're a visitor, don't mind me 'cause I'm getting ready to share what the Lord has put on my heart and we might act up, we might, or we may sit still. But more importantly than our physical expressions tonight, I want you to get this in your heart, all right?
I want you to go go I Samuel 7. Want you go to I Samuel 7. And I want you to go to the 15th verse, and as you're getting there, I just want to say I was looking through some photos of my family. And my mother keeps all the photos, the good ones and the bad ones, like when I had buck teeth, before I got my braces and my teeth were, one was trying to head 59 north, the other one was going 610 west, you know, just the whole thing. And she just, just as proud, got it framed. I'm like, "Can you please put that away"? She's like, "No, that's my Hercules, Hercules. That is my baby".
See, I'm the only child, so if she had another one more cute, she'd probably have that up, but, you know, every picture, "Oh, look at your tooth. It was still comin' in". I was like, "I was 12, it was just a mess". And it's not a baby tooth. That's a grown man tooth that didn't want to act right. But looking through those photos, I see pictures of a mother who was committed to raising her child. I saw the wedding photos and I saw my mother smiling just as big and my father with this look on his face, like, "What did I just do? I don't know what I did". And it's okay to laugh 'cause it worked out for the good of my mother who loves God and is the called according to his purpose. But you can see that, even in that picture, because pictures, you can't hide. It's just gon' show you what it is.
There was no color correction on the emotion of the photo. And in the photo, you could see my mother and you could see my father, and you could see clearly they were in two different places. And then you see, later, this baby in the arms of a mother with a fly Afro. My mama had the Afro of life. Rollercoaster, that kind of Afro. You understand me? With the black fist comb. Remember them combs? Any sisters in here? With the Afro sheen. Anybody remember Afro, all right. My suburban family's like, "I don't understand where you're, where you're going with this", but follow, follow me. Then I see more pictures of my mom and I and me, my mother, and my grandmother and my aunts and me. Very few photos of the men in my family. And there's not one that I can find of just my father and I
And so, whether I look like it or not, there's a daddy wound that exists in the heart of some children. Maybe not all, but for those of us who didn't grow up with a father, there's a wound, and only the Lord can heal it. Because if he doesn't heal it, you'll look for validation everywhere you can. And I want to talk to you tonight about the power of making your family the priority. And I want you to go with me, and I shared this story about not having a photo with my father for a reason, just keep that in your mind, and let's go to the scripture.
I Samuel 7:15 says: and Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord. He always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord. And what I want to talk to you tonight about is from the subject: where's your altar? Where's your altar?
And I know a lot of you are used to the excitable John and the jump up and down John, and we may get there, we may not, but I want to share some things that will give us some ammunition against the enemy when it comes to our family, because whether you know it or not, families are under attack right now like never before. And we can shout all day, but that shout may not be the thing that you need. You may need some practical steps, and I want to walk through those tonight. Is that all right?
I want to talk about Samuel because Samuel was one of the, he was one of the top Old Testament prophets. This dude was the man. There wasn't too many like Samuel. He was bad to the bone. The Bible makes it clear that Samuel, even his birth was a miracle. His mother was barren and she was crying out before the Lord and she was at the temple, constantly asking the Lord to take away the reproach, for in ancient Israel, the thought was, if you couldn't have children, you were either cursed by God or you didn't have favor or something was wrong with you, and culturally and in society, that was something that was shameful. And this woman was a woman of God and she prayed and she said, "God, if you give me a son, I promise you I'll give him back to you".
And oh, that God would raise up parents that say, "God, you gave him to me, but I'm giving him right back to you", that we don't use our children as an extension of our youth that we didn't get to live, that we raise our children to know the Lord, that we don't push them in directions that we wish we could've gone in, but we raise them in the way the Lord has called us to so that they can be who God created them to be. So Hannah, the Lord blessed her and her husband. She got pregnant. She had the baby. As soon as the baby was weaned, she sent the baby off to live in the temple.
Now this woman wasn't playing. I'm like, if you say I'm gon' give the baby to you, I'm thinking I'mma keep him and I'mma raise him and we're going to talk about you a lot. But she was like, no, she just stopped by the church one day, like, "Hey, how you all doing? Here's the baby. Take care". She dropped her son off and Eli, who was the priest, raised the boy. And at a young age, God began speaking to Samuel. Interesting because Samuel didn't know the voice of God and he's sleeping in the temple and God says, "Samuel, Samuel", and he gets up and he goes to Eli and he says, "Eli, did you call me"? And he was like, "Go to sleep. Nobody's called you, boy. Ain't nobody said nothin' in here". "Okay, I'm going to go back in".
And he goes back and God calls him again and he's, like, "I know I hear a voice", and so the only male voice he knows is the priest. He goes back to Eli. Eli says, "No, I didn't call you". Comes back again, hears the same voice, he says, "Eli, somebody's calling me", and Eli finally said, "You know what? It's the voice of the Lord. And if he says your name again, you say, 'here I am, for your servant is listening'". And this is the statement that we need to make. Parents, we need to get our kids in the presence of the Lord. You're not going to win a culture war, but you can win a kingdom war.
There's so much stuff that your kids can get into, but you've got to create a climate in your house where the Kingdom of God, the things of God, the presence of the Lord is a priority. If we are believers and if we are Christians, then our lives need to look like it, not just on a Wednesday night or on a weekend service, but we need to really start living this thing so that our neighbors and our co-workers and our family members who are not saved will look at us and say, "There is something distinctly different about the way you carry yourself, about the way you handle problems, about the way you respond to attacks. There's something different about you". Because greater is he that's in you than he that's in the world.
So Samuel was raised up as a mighty prophet. He was not one of those prophets that you see sometimes, and some of us have probably seen 'em, you know, maybe on late night tv many years ago, used to see somebody on, you wake up two or three, and he's just out there:
"I'll tell you what. Right now, you better call that number at the bottom of your screen. I got some water, it's some miracle water. I'mma tell you right now, you put that water on your knee, you throw it right there on your knee, I promise your knee might almost feel better, I promise. I don't even know. If you call the number 1-400, I don't know what I'm doing. Call it right now. I'mma tell you what. I feel somebody right now, somebody's about to dial the number. I see you right there, ma'am. Pick up your phone and, right now, call that number. I'mma send you this water and a miracle prayer cloth. I'mma send you a cloth. You aint' even going to, I got a cloth. I'mma wipe it with my sweat and it's got anointed sweat. I'mma send it to your house. Don't even wash it. Just walk around with it. If you got a bald spot, put it on your head and you might get some hair. I'mma tell you right now".
He was not that kind of prophet. He was a real prophet. He was not a prophet for profit.
You know why Reality TV is so big right now? Because many of us are not, we're not so connected to our own lives that we got to look at other people's lives to get excitement. Literally, if you watch these shows, most of those shows are them getting out of a car, going to a restaurant, talking, throwing wine on one another, fighting, getting back in the car, going somewhere else, talking about what just happened there at the restaurant here by the pool, back in the car and in another city, and we watch it and we're making them rich because we don't like the lives we're living. I know you can't say, "Amen". You're like, "Nah, I don't like this sermon. This is... He's in my business. Now I don't appreciate".
Now am I saying that Reality TV is wrong, is it a sin? No, I'm not saying any of that, but my point is many of us look at that as reality, but you need to understand, your life is a reality. But what the enemy wants you to do is minimize your reality and maximize the illusion of someone else's success. Man, that looks real exciting. All those nice places. Man, look at me. So I got two cars, I got two kids, I got to work every day, I got to clock in, I got to go to lunch for an hour, clock back in, then I got to go pick my kids up, then I got to go home, get their homework done, make dinner with the wife, and now, eat with 'em and watch some TV before I take a shower and go to bed and do it all over again. And you think that that's boring? Do you know that that's kingdom?
I don't know who I came to encourage, but sir, when you got up in the morning, God applauded because there are so many men that won't take responsibility, but you did. And when you were driving in that traffic and you were stuck on the highway and you kept going and you clocked in and you gave your best and then you went home and you got those kids and you helped them with their homework and you helped with dinner, even though you were tired and you were sore, and you kissed your wife on the lips and said, "I love you", before you left, even those small things matter to God. Whether you know it or not, you are establishing an altar, something significant and beautiful that matters in the kingdom. Your life matters.
Somebody say, "Where's your altar"? It's funny because, for many of us, we want more than what we have. But have you stopped to thank God for what you got? I know you'd probably like it if you had a little more cushion in your 401k or if your savings account had a couple more zeroes. I get it. I understand. The economy is going crazy. Jobs are volatile. I get it. The political spectrum is going bananas. I get it. But can you just thank God for where you are right now?
Maybe tonight is the night you need to stop worrying about what you don't have and thank him for what you do have. Maybe we can take about seven seconds right now and while you're sitting in your chair and maybe you're at home, maybe you can thank God for what he's already given you. Maybe you're not where you want to be, but you're still walking it out. Just walk it out. But before you finish the walk, thank him. Thank him while you're walking. Thank him while you're walking. Thank him while you're walking. God, I thank you. I'm not where I want to be, but thank you for what you've done so far. I didn't have a father growing up, Duane, I didn't. My mom and dad divorced when I was four years old.
One of the legacies of fatherless boys is the need for approval. I used to preach, and I've always preached Jesus and I'm always gon' preach Jesus. There is no other Gospel. There is no other name whereby men must be saved. Let me make it real clear. I'm not here to try to make people like me. I'm here to preach Jesus and die right. And I want to make it real clear that, as long as I'm living, Jesus is the only way to the father. And I got to make it known that, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. But I didn't have that voice, and so I would often preach and then go back to the hotel or I'd be in the car, and I'm saying, "God, were you proud of me? God, were you pleased? I hope you weren't mad at me. I know I messed up on that one scripture. I said the name of the city wrong. I said the wrong illustration there, I'm sorry".
That's what happens when the father does not speak identity to the son. Oh help me, Holy Ghost. Are there any fathers in here and maybe you don't have a relationship with your boy? Call him. Tell him you love him. Start right there. It doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out speech. Don't tell him you're sorry. Don't tell him, "Well you know me and your mother, we had struggles". Don't do any of that. Call him. Tell him you love him. One I love you can change his destiny. I'm telling you what I know. Where's your altar? And so the hunger that I had as an orphan, that orphan spirit will have you running around needing other people to tell you how good you are. But oh, when I found Jesus.
Now, it's nice if you tell me I did well, but it doesn't matter. And what I mean is I appreciate the good and the bad, but what matters is what my wife thinks and what my kids think and what my mama thinks because that's my altar. And I'm only here to serve him, and if I preach the Gospel the right way, then he'll say, "Well done", at the end. I like you, but the last time I checked, none of these songs have your name in it. I'm singing to him. His name is Jesus. I serve him. His name is Jesus. I love you, but I worship him, and I've got to make him the priority. Where is your altar?
I want to talk to men for a second because the key to building an altar is that we got to have strong men. Can I hear from the men real quick? Where the men at? Matter of fact, all the men, stand up right now. Stand up. Every man, stand up. Look at this, ladies. Pan these cameras. Show the world that Lakewood has an auditorium filled of men, men who come out on a Wednesday night to hear the word of the Lord, to worship in spirit and in truth.
And while you're standing, can I tell you, God bless you. Thank God for every man in this place. Keep living, keep fighting, keep growing, keep Messing up, and keep getting up because there's therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. The fact that you are here makes you a better man than many men out there. You didn't use an excuse to not be here. You pressed through. And I want to let you know, as your brother, I celebrate you. I am not in competition with you. I don't hate on you. We celebrate you. Here at Lakewood, we celebrate the men of God, the men of vision, the men of integrity. We thank God. Ladies, let these men know how appreciative you are.
'Cause some of you are struggling with doubt and unbelief, and you think God is mad at you. I want you to know, your doubt doesn't stop Jesus from coming to see about you. In fact, your doubt will attract him through closed doors. Your doubt will make him come and say, look, just touch. Touch here. Don't be unbelieving, but believing. How profound is it, because so many church people, so many church people think you've got to walk in perfect faith for Jesus to show up, and if you doubt, then Jesus is mad. I'm taking all my blessings with me. I'm going back to heaven. You don't deserve my mercy. No, that's not who Jesus is.
Doubt doesn't stop us from touching Jesus. I dare you to touch him even while you're doubting. I dare you to touch him even while you're struggling, even through your tears, still lift your hands. Even though it doesn't make sense, still believe. Get the song of the Lord out of your mouth. Don't let your doubt stop you from touching Jesus. Jesus lets the doubters touch him. Now this is deep because Thomas wasn't always a doubter. In fact, in John chapter 11, when Jesus was on his way to go get Lazarus up from the grave, Thomas says to the disciples, let us go with him that we may die also. Now that's a deep statement because Jesus was going back through enemy territory to go get Lazarus, which is a whole 'nother sermon.
If you're dead and in the ground, Jesus will come through enemy territory just to come get you. Holy Ghost in here tonight. But Thomas was the one that said, if they going to kill him, they got to kill me too. Isn't it deep to be that dude one day, and then the doubter a little while later? You know how that happens? Pain. Grief. Bad breaks. Bad decisions. The wrong voices in your ear will take you from the place of, I'm ready to die with you, to, he is not alive. He wasn't always a doubter, which is why Jesus took time to come see about him.
I don't know who you are. Maybe you're in a tough time right now, but this does not define you. This moment will not break you, because this moment did not make you. You were made when you confessed. You were made when Jesus died and his blood was shed for your life. Somebody say, I believe. Here's the thing. I believe that Jesus remembered that Thomas was the one that said, if they're going to kill him, they got to kill us too. I'm willing to die for him. So Jesus shows up and says, put your hand here, and put your hand here. I've already died for you. I don't need you to die for me. I need you to live for me.
See, everybody wants to die a hero. Wouldn't it be great to die a hero? I'm going to die with Jesus. Jesus is like, cool, I took care of that. You know what I need you to do? I need you to live a steady, consistent life of good. Do you know it's harder to live a consistent life of service to others than it is to die a hero in a moment? I feel the Holy Ghost in here. As believers we need to stop worrying about hitting the home runs and just hitting singles. Can you hit the single? Can you bunt the next runner over? Can you live your life so somebody else can succeed? That's the power of a steady and consistent life.
Thomas was a twin. Twin. We never meet his twin. I'm sure he had one, but he was also a twin, 'cause there was at least two of him. There were times when he doubted. There were times when he believed. There were times when he worshiped. There were times when he cried. There were times when he was willing to run after whatever Jesus said, and there were other times when he was running out hiding, afraid, and that's just the same with you and i. Nobody in here is immune to moments of fear, moments of what if, questions, and God is not intimidated by your questions. Jesus is coming to show you his hands and his side. Don't be unbelieving. Come on and believe. Don't forget what I used to do.
What happens and what I believe happened with Thomas is what happens with us, is life hit Thomas square in the eye and he forgot what Jesus had done. You know when life happens, sometimes you forget what Jesus has done. When the enemy hits you with his best shot, you forgot that Jesus saved you a year ago from that car accident. Sometimes when you get hit with life, you forget that he showed up with an unexpected check to help you pay off that bill before they came to get that car. Sometimes you forget when you get hit by the attack of the enemy how he saved your grandmother when you were little and how he kept you from drowning in that pool. You forget, but God says, "oh if you can remember what I did then, if I did it before, I can do it again".
Praise break. There was a point when Thomas believed and he was willing to die for it. Jesus showed up and said, touch this. Touch here. I don't want you dying for something you don't believe in. See me, this Gospel, I'm willing to lay my life down for it, because I believe. I'm fully persuaded that Jesus is who he says he is, and I'm not turning back. But we're talking about Thomas in the context of where's your altar. Now here's what happened. Somehow in the moments of doubt, those eight days, I'm sure he was struggling with his faith and I'm sure the other disciples were letting him have it.
Come on, man. I'm telling you, I saw Jesus. Man, I don't want to hear about it. If Jesus was really real then he should have showed up. Why'd he have to die anyway? I don't understand all of this. And then Jesus shows up eight days later, symbolic of a new beginning. He didn't come on the sixth day, the number of man, or the number of flesh. He didn't come on the ninth day, the number of judgment. He came on the eighth day 'cause he didn't come to remind you of your mistakes, and he didn't come to remind you of the judgment. He came to remind you that with him you have a new beginning. Touch here. And what happened there is Thomas was reminded of his altar.
See, as believers we can come to this platform, but an altar is just wood if you don't have a king on it. Who's on your altar determines the power coming from the altar. Now if you put fear on the altar, then you can expect a harvest of fear in your life. If you put doubt on the altar, then you can expect to see doubt crop up in unexpected places. But if you put the king on the altar, you can expect for your life to shift, for your entire internal mechanism to change, your mindset to change, your body to change. When you put the king on the throne, everything changes, and you've got to focus on the throne.
In fact, you've got to watch the throne. Matter of fact, that's what some of us need to do. Stop watching circumstance and watching the work of the enemy and watching that voice over here, and you need to watch that throne, because the last time I checked, Jesus is not leasing the throne to anybody. He's still seated on the throne like the g that he is, because he's the only one that defeated death, hell, and the grave. Why do you believe? Let me remind you of why you believe. Because no devil in hell could stop him. No sickness could keep him. No grave could hold him. No rock could contain him. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You'd better watch that throne.
Praise break. Four, three... Three things happen when you believe. Write these down. Three things happen when you believe. When you believe, you go from curious to committed. You know you believe when you go from curious to committed. I know there are people that, well, I'm just visiting. You've been visiting for 13 years. Stop visiting. Quit playing. Well, we're just not sure. We're just kind of kicking the tires. Go ahead and quit playing. Go from curious to committed. When you believe that Jesus is who he says he is, your curiosity and the questions you have will fall to the passion and the hunger of being committed to something bigger than yourself.
We are the church. Look at this. We're family. The enemy is just one. He's not omnipotent. He's one fallen angel. He can't get all of us. He might hit one of us, but he can't get all of us, and if he hits you, he got to go through me, and you, and you, and you, and you, because we are the church and he can't mess with all of us, 'cause somebody in here knows how to pray. Somebody's grandmother knows how to pray. That's the power of belief. Don't tell me that belief doesn't matter. It does matter. When you believe that Jesus is Lord, everything changes.
We won't accept you if you come as you are. You know the Bible says come as you are. This all I got. Oh baby, that's not going to work. We can't, ya know. Oh no, no no. Your skirt is way too short. But my heart is way too broke. So are you more concerned with the length of my skirt over the position of my heart? People want you to encounter God in a way that makes them feel comfortable, but that's not what Jesus says. Jesus said, you came to me with doubt. I'm coming to you with my holes.
Woo, that's why he's holy. Jesus is looking for real people. No more coming in here like you've arrived. No more walking in hoping people accept you. If nobody in here accepts you, Jesus accepts you. You are loved by the king. It would be nice if everyone here was your friend. That may not happen, but you've got a friend that sticks closer than a brother. When you leave religion and go to the place of relationship, religion says you've got to act like you have it all together. Religion says, put on your mask because if they see what you're really struggling with, they'll throw you away.
That's what some folk will do, but you won't find that here. What you're going to find here is, guess what. Welcome to the club. I struggle with that. Welcome to the club. I've been through that. Welcome to the club. I messed up there too, man. Well, why you smiling? Because Jesus finished all that on the cross. I didn't come here because I had it together. I came here because I needed to get it together, and Jesus is the one that finished the work. My righteousness is in him, not my works. When you believe, you go from religious to relational. Religion will have you coming in here to show off in front of people. Relationship says, you don't know why I'm crying today, and I'm not here to please you.
I know my tears might make you nervous. I know my shouting might make you nervous. But I'm not here for you. I'm here because I need a breakthrough, and I need him to come through locked doors and broken past and an abusive childhood and a bad marriage and domestic violence, and all the things that people have walked through that walk in here, and I need to encounter Jesus, and I don't have time to be religious. I need a relationship. Last thing is, when you believe, you go from being passive to passionate.
When I first met my wife, I didn't know she was my wife. I just was curious about this young lady that carried herself very differently from a lot of the other people in her peer group. All of them were nice people, but there was for me something different and distinct about her, and so over time, at first I was chill. I was passive. How you doing? You all right? Okay. Don't judge me. I looked up to that. I did. I looked, I just, bam. There, okay, all right. Don't judge me. I'm flesh and spirit. You know, all right. Had to check and make sure the heels was lotioned, toes was painted, the jeans was right, ba-da cow, okay, all right, all right. I don't see no tracks hanging out.
Okay, all right. She got the hair put in right, sewed in, okay. If she was looking like this it would have been a no thanks. Hey. Hey, pastor John, how you doing? Oh my goodness. No. The Lord has not called me to you. Where you going? Don't leave. I'm gone, girl. God got somebody else for you. I was passive. 'cause I needed to check her character. I was passive to see how she carried herself, passive. But then I got to know her, and with each passing moment of interaction and encounter, I became increasingly more passionate to the point that I decided, this is not a woman I can live without.
Let me go and hit her with this nice, fat, $300 rock. That includes tax. Yeah, you better rock my ring. You don't get covenant without passion, and what we've lost in here is sometimes we want to come in and be casual. "I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, he calls me friend". No, when I come in, I'll be like, yeah, let's get that worship in. Yeah, he's been too good to me. Yeah, let's go ahead and lift up the name of Jesus in here. Yeah, I know some people might not understand, but he's been too good to me for me to just sit down, so I'm just, you are good.
"So good to me, and your love never fails, oh, oh, and your love never fails". When you're passionate, you can't contain it. When you're passionate, you can't just sit down. It's time to go. You can stand up if you want to. When you're passionate, you got to let somebody know, and because I believe, I've got to tell the world. But since the world's not in here, I can share my testimony, because we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.
So you know what we're about to do? You're going to tell the person next to you one thing that God has done, and then they're going to tell you one thing that God has done, and then we all go and praise. You've got 22 seconds to do all that. On your Mark, get set, go. Somebody play me a song up in here, will. Play me something. Play me a song, something. "You are good". God has been too good to sit down. I used to doubt, but then he came to let me touch him. Now I believe. I've gone from curious to committed. I've gone from passive to passionate and from religious to relational. I love him and I've got to talk about him. I love him and I had to put a ring on it. Got baptized, filled with the Holy Ghost. Now I'm brand new. Anybody in here been made new by the blood of the lamb?