Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Altar Call

I've been a Christian for a long time and a Baptist even longer. Therefore, I have been present at a LOT of altar calls. I guess you all know what those are...the time when the preacher, at the end of the service, calls for anyone who would like to make a public profession of faith to come forward (people also go down to just kneel at the altar and pray, or ask the preacher questions, or join the church...). Basically, they all end with, "If the Lord's leading, won't you come today."

I think it may be a requirement in the Baptist church to do this after every meeting. Jeremiah's grandfather was a Baptist preacher, and they even did it at his funeral! While I think that they are a good idea, there have definitely been revivals or seminars I've attended where I felt like the speaker basically guilted half the congregation to come forward :). I say all that to tell you, that oftentimes the preacher will ask anyone who has made a decision to pray with him, and then he'll proceed to pray a prayer that ends with you being a believer. I pray that prayer EVERY time. Then they usually ask you to raise your hand or come forward if you prayed it, and I never do. You see, while I've had the Holy Spirit living in me for 17 years or so, I felt like it never hurt to ask Him to come in one more time. When somebody starts saying, "If you have ANY doubt that if you died driving home from here tonight, you would find yourself in the presence of the Lord, then you need to pray this prayer with me right now."

That's some pressure, isn't it? ANY DOUBT...ANY. Well, I am here to confess that I sometimes have felt doubt. Can this all really be real? Doesn't it sound a little too good to be true, that the King of the Universe died a gruesome death, just so that I could spend eternity with him? I love magic and mystery, but I spend so much time telling myself that the books I read aren't real, so could the Bible just be another elaborate story? These questions have never plagued me, but I have thought them. Therefore, when that preacher has said ANY DOUBT, I have always been ready to add a little more security to my promise.

Then, Mom. I always thought that if God chose to take Mom, I would really start to struggle with those questions that have always wanted to creep into my heart. If one of my rocks of faith was wrong, what would happen to my own faith? I am here to proclaim to you that the exact opposite of what I believed would happen, has happened. Our God is beautiful and mysterious, we can never understand His ways, but He is also all-knowing. I believe that if he had healed Mom, miraculously, like I so desperately begged Him to do, then I would have had a quick fix. An adrenaline rush that probably would have lasted for a year or so, followed by a truly awesome story to share with others for the rest of my life. Now, those who saw the miracle first-hand would have hopefully believed, but do you think that every person I shared her story with on the street would have believed? To believe in a God who does miracles, you must first BELIEVE in God. My testimony could never be as convincing as the argument He's already made for himself in His word.

So, that was the hypothetical, but what's the reality? The reality is that I sat in a church service last week, and I heard the guilt trip shpill at the end, and for the first time my heart didn't quaver. A smile came across my face, and I thanked Jesus that I didn't have to wonder any more. He has carried me through a raging fire, but He showed me how to tuck my face into the hollow of his neck, to shield me til we reached the other side. He's put my feet back on the ground, but he's still holding both of my hands and coaxing me forward. He's become so real in my every-day, that I don't have to be immersed in His word or prayer to feel His presence. He is real. He is dwelling within me. He has shown himself to be enough no matter how hot the fire. And now I can smile through those altar calls.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good word. You are a daughter in Christ--bought with a price--his blood. We are given the rights of sons (and daughters) Gal. 4:4-7; Rom. 8:15; We are dearly loved children (Ephesians 5:1); He promises not to leave us as orphans (John 14:18). I gently encourage all who know Christ to preach the gospel to ourselves daily--even hourly--reminding ourselves that "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the rightousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

A question to ponder concerning altar calls is "Is church for the believer or nonbeliever"? I emphatically believe that church is only for believers by definition and that we far too often cater to nonbelievers.

Much love! Justin Stickler

Abby Maddox said...

Thank you for reminding me that altar is spelled with an "a" and not an "e"! I knew that something didn't look right!

Angie said...

Abby, I was introduced to your blog by some friends who are members of First Baptist Dothan. I have so enjoyed reading your posts and have been inspired to start my own blog. Sharing special moments with friends and family is important.
I have been down the road you are traveling and you know that God is making this trip with you. My father died almost 7 years ago from cancer. The most precious gift he gave me was assuring me of his salvation. It made my journey so much easier. Please know that you and your family will continue to be in my prayers. I look forward to keeping up with your journey.

Alex said...

so incredible Abby...thank you...God's presence in your life is unmistakable...thank you for allowing Him to speak through you..

Anonymous said...

all I can say is "amazing".... truly amazing.
love,
k

Ashley said...

Abby, we met at Tegan's wedding (or one of her parties maybe?), and I went to Auburn (I guess I was a couple of years older than you). Anyway, I am so blessed by hearing your thoughts on such subjects as this post. I also went through years of "guilt" during the altar call, until I finally realized that it's not an emotional thing (of course, it can be). We can be confident of our salvation by what the Holy Spirit continues to do in our lives. I also strongly agree with the first commenter about churches being for believers. Great words!

Darby Stickler said...

Hey Abby, I love your words... you say the things we all think but don't have the ability to write down, but you do so so beautifully. As for the altar calls... I was raised in a church that had them and always was thinking "What if no one goes forward?" "Is he talking to me?" "What will the pastor think if no one responds?" And often had that same sense of guilt; whether from the HS or the pastor... not quite sure... maybe both. A few months ago our pastor's wife explained to us in a study the reason why the Presbyterians don't have an altar call every week is because we all need one in our hearts every single day and basically the whole congregation would be on their knees at the altar every Sunday. Which is a simple explanation I'm sure but it definitely reminded me that we need to daily remind ourselves of the gospel and our salvation and come before His altar daily, hourly, mintutely (is that a word!?) Anyway, it stuck with me. I'm glad that your sense of guilt is gone and that you can rest assured of your salvation... what a beautiful place to be! We love you and miss you.... y'all come see us when you're in town!

Anonymous said...

Dear, Abby...I understand just what you are saying. Always try to remember that...God is not the author of confusion...Satan is... Anytime I find myself trying to reason things out...I have to remind myself...to STOP...and turn it over to God...The answer always comes down the road. I have found that in the stillness of our relationship he always directs me to where I should be or go. Trust, and have faith in him he is right next to you! Keep on with your good works. So many of us just can't wait to read your next thought! I am always so thrilled to see that you have posted another interesting thought. Something for me to chew on! LOL. Much love ....A true fan!

Anonymous said...

Dear Abby,
We have never met,but our husbands have. My name is Vicki Haley. My husband is Tim. I think Jeremiah contacted Tim when he was applying for Medical school or residency, I don't remember which one. We live in Dothan and he currently is in practice at Southern Bone and Joint. A dear friend of mine from church read your blog and thought I might be able to offer some encouragement since I have been through everything you are going through as a physician's wife. It has been a lot of fun reading your blog. It brings back so many happy memories of that very hectic time. We have a lot of things in common. I am an avid reader. A good book is a dear friend. When I read about how you love antique books and book stores, I could not believe it. Since I was a child, I have enjoyed antique book stores, old books, and any old library. I really thought I must be a little strange up until I read your blog. Anyway, there are lots of other interests we share as well. It makes me happy to find a " kindred spirit" out there.
Well, let me tell you a little bit about our family. Tim and I have been married 14 years. We have known each other since I was 5. We grew up in church together with our parents being friends. We did not date until my senior year in college. We were both dating oher people, until our parents cohersed with each other and began to pray for God's providence concerning our relationships. A year later, we were engaged. He is the love of my life and I truly believe God picked him for me(rather than our parents!)The last year of medical school I gave birth to Bethany and 16 months later found out we were expecting Anna Rebecca. It has been a whirlwind at times, but I wouldn't change a thing. YOu have a lot to look forward to when Jeremiah is in practice. But I expect you will look back on the things you are going through now as sweet memories. I have so many that at the time seemed like trials, but now they are little snapshots of happy times. Like eating tomato soup for the 500th time because it was cheap. One time I remember we got a big jar like the ones some southerners like to drink sweet tea out of saved all of our change for months until we had enough to go out to eat at "Landrys" in Birmingham. I don't know if it is still there, but we loved it! Then there is all it raising two little girls issues. By the way, I am so proud of you for dressing Pace and going to Krispy Kreme on a Saturday morning. Doing things like that saved me from losing my sanity many days. I can remember all those nights of sitting up with a sick baby wondering should we go to the ER or am I overreacting. This always happened when Tim was on call and may I just mention that he and Jeremiah share the view that we are a little over the top when our babies get sick. All the days of cleaning up messes- our was not tampons in the potty( loved that picture) it was zip lock bags. Also, there is one memory I have of Tim working like 72 hours straight and when he finally got home, I decided I needed to go for a 30 minute walk. Bad IDEA! I came home to find magic marker writing all over my wood floors, blinds, high chair and the list goes on. Tim apparently had been playing hide and go seek with our 3 and 1 year old. He decided to hide on the side of the bed on the floor with blankets thrown over him and fell asleep. Thank goodness they were washable markers. Now we just look back and laugh at that. I'm sure you and Jeremiah will too. Now things around here are a little quieter during the day since they are in school. I catch myself missing all the tea parties we used to have and the play dates. Sometimes I miss the quiet that you notice when they are getting into things. Don't get me wrong, my life is still very busy with things like school meetings, being room mom, violin practices, homework and all the other every day things of just being a stay at home mom. It's just a different phase that's all. I love being here when they get home from school with giggles and squeals about their day and I love being ble to be the one helping them with their homework and not missing out on all the changes they are going through. I thank the Lord every day that we chose for me to be a stay at home mom. It has brought so many blessings to my life, my marriage, and my children's lives. So, enjoy the stage you are in and know that it too will change. Before you know it, you will be sending Pace and Mary Aplin off to school with back packs and lunchboxes and you will wonder where the time went.
I would love for you to e-mail me sometime: vhaley@graceba.net
and I hope we will get together with you all when you move back to Dothan.
Your "kindred spirit"
Vicki

Anonymous said...

I believe the Church (body of believers) is here for the unsaved. The church needs to always be sharing what Christ did for that person and allow them a time to make a decision. The reason so many unbelievers don't attend church is because we christians have made it only for the believer, having no application to them at all. I am sad to hear that people believe so strongly that the church is only here for believers. We are definitely missing the whole point!

Ashley said...

Hey! Just to clarify my earlier comment:

I think it depends on what you mean by "for" when you are asking if the church is for believers.
If by "for" you mean "open to" then of course the church is not just for believers. We should welcome unbelievers with open arms.

But, if by "for" you mean "the purpose of" then I would have this: The purpose of church is a body of believers in fellowship, edification, and growing together in knowledge and depth of insight, observing the sacraments. The church is certainly "here for" the calling of unbelievers to the Lord, though that doesn't have to entail tailoring the service to that exact end. As a member of the body, I need to be getting the WORD out for sure!

Just a little clarification on my part...sorry!

Anonymous said...

Ashley responded quite well. I agree completely with her response.

There is no question that evangelism and the Great Commission should be a major aspect of the body of believers. However, catering, in terms of a sermon or other practices during a church service, to nonbelievers during a service is missing the point that church is, by definition, a body of believers.

I hope this response in addition to Ashley's also helps to clarify this position, which I believe is stongly supported biblically.

Sorry Abby. We'll start a forum or something! Way to spur us on! (Heb. 10:24)

Justin Stickler

Anonymous said...

Abby,
Yeah I figured out how to comment! I too love to read your stories and posting however I also love to look at the pictures that you post with them of your precious girls. By the way, Mary Aplin and Pace are really starting to look alike based on this picture.
Love Mal

Mom said...

Abby, we haven't met, but I know you through Jenny Bryant. I'm Josh's mom. I have loved reading your blog. Yours is the only one I've taken the time to read; you have so much to say. God has truly given you a gift and a talent for writing. This is a passion that I share with you. I just wish we could be in a writers' group together!
Witnessing your journey through the valley of the shadow of death has been a beautiful inspiration to so many. Your willingness to be so transparent has no doubt had an effect on more people than you will ever know. I know that God will continue to use you as you share your struggles with other challenges. You will be victorious in them as well, and God will be glorified. Thank you for being willing to let others gain courage through you. This is what being broken and poured out is all about!
I hope one day we will meet. I look forward to giving you a hug.
Love in Jesus...Careen Strange

Tonja said...

Hi Abby,
I know exactly what you mean, about doing it again and again..I used to do that, too. The 'what ifs' are big questions.

Let me recommend a wonderful book that was truly a godsend in my life. "Faith Is Not A Feeling" by Ney Bailey. You may have to order it from a Christian bookstore, but it is well worth it. I have lent it out so many times to those with doubts. Read it...even though you have it all figured out now, there is some very good lessons therein.