worshiping the high places

Category : God, bible, faith, sin, taking action

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Like us, ancient Israel struggled with finding their way into a relationship with God.   Many Israelites desperately wanted to have God in their life.  After all, he was the one who freed them from slavery, fed them in the desert, and protected them from their enemies.  But they couldn’t escape the prevailing culture of their day.

(Some things don’t change very much, do they?)

They found themselves surrounded by foreign gods and religious practices.  Instead of rejecting that, they saw those traditions as another way to connect to God.  They started to think, “well if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.”

And so Israel began to worship at “high places.”

Now “high places” were religious shrines built (primarily) by other religions.  They were a place where people who didn’t believe in God worshiped.  But somewhere along the way Israel got involved with worshiping at the high places.  While there were exceptions (such as Manasseh who instituted child sacrifice) most Israeli’s were trying to do “the right thing” even if they didn’t know what that was.

That’s the irony.  Most Jews didn’t really understand why worshiping at the high places was such a problem.  They wanted to be closer to God.  After all, they were “good people”, what did it matter if they worshiped God at a temple or a high place?

Just like the Golden Calf incident, Israel didn’t mean to offend God.  They just didn’t want to wait.  They wanted a relationship with God, just not on his terms, but on theirs.   So they tried to encourage action by building a golden calf.  This same mentality led them to use the high places.

The sad fact is, in both cases, Israel missed the fundamental nature of who God is.  They wanted a relationship with God, but were willing to settle for much, much less.

How could God not be outraged?  To him, high places are an insult and blasphemy.  They were declarations that Israel didn’t trust him.  That they didn’t believe in him.  That they were sure they knew how to do it “better.”

Reading about their struggles, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “they should have known better!”  But do we live as if we know better?  Or do we build our own high places?  Do we build monuments that he finds offensive?

When we see a need do we act out of love?  Or do we act because we want to be seen as special?  Are our churches just another high place?  Built not to honor God, but to amuse our sense of pride, to entertain us, to make us feel cool and hip?  Or are our churches empty, stuck in tradition (with us unwilling to change), because we’ve convinced ourselves that God cares more about tradition than people?

Many of us are not going to like the answers to those questions.

We criticize Christians for failing to live a Christ-like life.  In many cases that criticism is justified.  But how many times are we like the Israelites – trying to do what we think is right, but missing the mark by a mile?  Maybe the reason we don’t look different from non-believers is not because we want to fit in, but because we don’t know what we’re supposed to look like?

In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden say, “In Jesus’ day, people could read, study, and discuss the Scriptures their entire lives and still miss its central message.”

Is it any different today?

We all have built alters on high places thinking we are honoring God.  Instead we offend him.  The bigger our high places get, the more distant God becomes.  And slowly, over time, we just can’t see past the alter.

But there is hope.  God always encouraged Israel to tear down their high places.  He still wanted to be in relationship with them.  He still wants to be in relationship with you.

You still have time to tear down your high places.

history of the world, part 1: the 10 Commandments

Category : bible, humor, just for fun

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In the post, “guard your heart,” I wrote that every time we break one of the 10 Commandments we do serious damage to our heart.  We just weren’t designed to live the way we are choosing to live.  In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden agree, saying, “What God begins …with the 10 Commandments is the long process of teaching [Israel] how to be human again.”

God gave us the 10 Commandments not as punishment for being disobedient, but as a guide to how to live a better life.

That’s the serious side of all of this.  But since it’s Friday, and I just managed to run my USB drive through the washing machine, I feel like a little laughter.  So here is Mel Brook’s take on the 10 Commandments

guard your heart

2

Category : God, bible, living a life of faith, sin

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4: 23)

I wonder how many of us make a serious effort to guard our hearts.  Do we make our decisions based on protecting our heart?  Or do we make our decisions based on excitement, envy, desire, passion?

I don’t often like to talk about current events, but sometimes they serve as a good illustration.  Take the case of Ben Roethlisberger being accused of sexual assault.  I don’t know if he did it (if he does, he deserves to go to jail) if he didn’t, in many ways his life is ruined.  The same is true of the accuser.  If she’s a victim, something precious has been taken from her.  If she made up the story, then something is deeply broken inside her.

This whole incident occurred because they slept together.

I’m not here to moralize or judge, especially about people who may not have a relationship with God.  Yet I am here to point out: there’s a reason God gave us the 10 commandments.  It’s not to take away our fun.  It’s not so he can reserve good things for himself.  It’s because our hearts need protecting.  Every single time we violate the 10 commandments our heart is wounded.  Yet most of us don’t’ feel that way.  Why?  I think it’s because for most of us, our heart are so badly damaged we can barely feel them anymore.  We can’t imagine what it would be like to have a protected, guarded, safe heart.

Is it any wonder we live in an age of increasing skepticism and cynicism?

Our hearts are precious.  Maybe we should treat them that way.

swimming laps

1

Category : God, bible, different, faith, sharing faith, taking action

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At the end of last week I wrote that I felt like I was in over my head.

Well no longer.

In fact, I actually feel like swimming some laps.  Metaphorically of course.  I actually hate to swim.  My swim style is more akin to a brick than a fish.  But back to the point at hand – since Friday I have spent two days reading the Bible.  And frankly I feel ready to tackle the world.  I knew that I had let my “spiritual disciplines” lapse because of my schedule.  I also knew that in the past, the more I read my Bible and prayed, the closer I felt to God, the more energy I had to handle new challenges.  But sometimes I don’t take my own advice.

So once again I had let those disciplines slip.  As I sat in my apartment, feeling a thousand-fold better, I started talking to God.  As I prayed I simply asked God, “could it really be that simple.”

And I believe he said, “yes.”

Sometimes our temptation is to make things complex.  We don’t want simple solutions, because simple means we lose our built in excuse of “it’s too hard.”  But when all it takes is a slight change to your schedule, it’s hard to find excuses.  Hard, not impossible of course.

There are some things about God that are complex.  Some things defy a simple answer.  I’m not trying to deny that.  But not everything is like that.  When we try to push mystery into things where there is none, all we end up doing is losing sight of the obvious.  We start turning God into something that he is not.

I don’t understand everything about God.  But I do understand this – if you love someone you make it easier for them to talk to you, not harder.  You go out of your way to call them, talk to them, e-mail them.  That is what God does.  He has given us an easy, simple, straight forward way to stay connected to him.

So why is it so hard?  Well I think if we’re honest with ourselves we need to ask another question first: Is he the problem?  Or are we?

I don’t always have the motivation, energy, or discipline to stay focused on reading the Bible.  But there is no question, if you want to stay connected to God, reading your Bible is key.

It really is that simple.

in over my head

1

Category : God, choice, failure, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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I am a bit frustrated this morning as I write this.  I think I am in a bit over my head.  Oh I’m not in trouble.  Well, at least the legal kind.  I have just allowed myself to get so busy (with virtually all good to awesome things) that I have let my daily reading, writing, and study go by the way side.  I don’t think that it’s a coincidence it’s harder to muster up the enthusiasm for prayer and reading the Bible this week.

When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

As I’ve said before, a relationship with God takes work.  And when we slack off, is it any wonder the relationship takes a  hit?  If you ignored your wife or girlfriend (or husband / boyfriend) how do you think things would feel?  It’s not much different with God.

I find though, that more than my prayer life suffers.  The rest of me suffers as well.

The enthusiasm and excitement just aren’t there to tackle hard projects (of which I have agreed to do several!)  It’s also more challenging to trust that God will deliver on his end.  When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

How far from the truth that is!

On the positive side I have been lucky enough to be involved in some very cool life-changing, city-changing activities.  When I finish up these projects (for a church and a non-profit), God’s Kingdom will have solidly advanced.  And what’s not to like about that?!

In the meantime, I must consciously choose to slow my life down, because I am running at a pace that does not honor God.  Living out a life of faith doesn’t mean you always do the right thing, or choose the best path.  It’s about getting back up (repentance) and trying again.   It reminds me of something Erwin McManus has said in the past (and I paraphrase), “the toughest decisions aren’t between good and bad choices, but between equally good choices.”

Amen to that!

the average lie

Category : God, different, revolutionary, taking action

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Frederick Buechner once said, “The world sets into making us what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than who we originally were. That is the story of all our lives and in the process of living out that story; the original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us hardly end up living out of it at all.   Instead, we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”

I am shocked at how true this is.  I am also shocked at how easily the lies creep into our lives.

It seems that we fall for the same lies over and over again.

I think what’s most interesting is that the lies often push us not towards destruction (although we sometimes end up there) but towards mediocrity.  The lies we believe about ourselves are almost never so bad that we end up in jail or dead.  Instead they just tell us to settle.

This, I think is why for most of us our lives are defined as “average.”

I don’t mean average in the sense of ability or skills.  I mean average in terms of our life lived.  We all fight so hard to simply fit into the crowd, to remain average.

Well I reject this.  I want to stand out if standing out is where God wants me.  I want to be exceptional if the exceptional is where God is.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “why was I too afraid to act?”  I don’t want to believe the average lie.

laws of physics: equal and opposite reactions

Category : God, different, faith, miracles, sin

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For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This is a famous law that plays out in virtually every aspect of life.  If you drop a ball the energy will have to go somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear.  So the ball bounces back up toward you.  If you’re driving your car and slam into a wall, your car is crushed and you’re likely to be in the hospital.  If you use hate and violence to “get back at” someone, they will likely turn around and use hate and violence against you.

That’s just the way the universe works.

Enter Jesus.

He changed how this law works.  As Paul said to the Christians in Rome: ” the wages of sin are death.”  Every time we sin we deserve to be punished.  We deserve to suffer the eternal consequences.  God knows this.  But God also knows the depths of his love for us.  So he found another way to satisfy the laws of physics and the laws of love.

That’s grace.

But grace comes at a price.    Even God must follow the rules he created for the universe.  And because of this it cost Jesus’ his life.  Someone had to pay the price for our guilt.

I’ve spent this week talking about “what evidence do you need to believe?” and the “illusions of the world.”  We saw that expecting purely scientific evidence for God’s existence would leave you unsatisfied.  And if you simply relied on your eyes, you would fall for a pack of lies (Photoshop and computer graphics do amazing things these days!)  As much as we want to rely on science it misses one of the major pieces of reality – grace. 

God didn’t have to pay this price  He could have left it to us.  But we never would have survived.  We never would have been able to overcome the laws of physics.  We would have been crushed by our guilt.  So instead of being scientific or evidenced based, he chose to act in love.  But as Philip Yancey says, “Grace costs nothing for the recipients but everything for the giver” (What’s so Amazing about Grace).  Science doesn’t make that decision.  Evolution doesn’t sacrifice itself.  Reason doesn’t choose to die for love.

The laws of physics may be in place in the universe, but I am grateful God works on a system that isn’t solely based on science and evidence.

the illusions of the world

Category : bible, choice, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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We live in a society heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution.  Because of that we think that every decision we make needs to have a root in scientific evidence.  But what if the decisions we are making aren’t really based on science?  What if the world is lying to us?  What if the world wants us to believe something is true even when it’s not?  How then, can we be sure our decisions are still science-based?  Are we just being manipulated?

The world is desperate to present us with a picture of safety and security.  It wants us to believe everything is “fine” and we don’t need to examine our lives – unless it’s to buy more stuff.  The goal is to not rock the boat.  To fit in.  To accept the status quo.

The truth is, despite all the science and knowledge we’ve accumulated, we are still pretty gullible.  We still fall for some pretty silly examples of photoshop distorting pictures.  What’s interesting though, is that while we stare at obviously fake images we reassure ourselves that we’re making decisions based purely on reason.  That our logic, and trust in science makes us smarter.

And so we discard religion.  As a society we’ve somehow decided that if it can’t be seen it must not be real.

I find this to be tragic.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we can’t always rely on our eyes.  Photoshop has proven that.  Instead we need to learn to also trust God, and the things he’s promised.  That’s really the definition of faith.  Expecting pure scientific evidence for God’s existence will always leave us wanting.  At some point we just need to trust in his promises and move forward.  At some point we have to realize that “just the facts ma’am” isn’t giving us an accurate picture of what’s going on.

Sometimes the temptation for a Christian is to turn their back on the world.  We can over react to the scientific revolution.  We can say “we can’t trust science because it’s from the world.”  However that’s not what God wants either.  God has never said don’t use science or trust your reasoning skills.  But he has warned us that there is a “Thief” who is intentionally trying to manipulate us.

It’s our job to go out into this place and try to bring a new message.  And we can’t do that if we pretend the world doesn’t exist.  We do, however, need to be aware of how much we take in.  We need to know how much we surround ourselves with other world views.  Because it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  It’s easy to fall prey to the lies.  To fall victim to the status quo.

To paraphrase the movie Mr. Deeds, the world is very, very sneaky.

Faith and science aren’t enemies.  They both give us access to important knowledge.  Science helps us to understand the physical world.  It helps us to build hospitals, cure disease, build computers and the internet.  But it can’t answer the question of “why.”  It can’t explain our purpose or our reason for existence.  It can’t define our morality or bring forgiveness to an enemy.

If you want to truly be part of the revolution, you need both faith and science in your life.

what evidence do you need to believe

1

Category : Bible reliability, choice, faith

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When I first started to believe that God was real I struggled with the idea of evidence.  I wanted something rock solid.  Some kind of proof that would show he was there.  I didn’t want to bet my lifestyle on something I couldn’t prove.  I sure wasn’t going to change how I lived for some idea that wasn’t true.

But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t figure out what would be “real” enough.  I knew for sure dreams wouldn’t be enough.  That could just be random neurons firing.  I also realized that if I heard God “speak” that would best be treated by psychiatric medicine.

What if I met God, like Paul?  For a while I thought that might work.  But then it occurred to me – I could convince myself that even something real wasn’t true.  (Isn’t that the essence of post-modern thinking anyway?)

Eventually I realized there wasn’t a single shred of evidence I couldn’t find a way to excuse.  No matter how dramatic the event, eventually I would chock it up to my imagination.  Everything could be explained away.

I think this is what happened to Israel.  No matter how dramatic the evidence – parting seas, bread from heaven, a column of fire, victory over enemies – it would never be enough.  This is why we’re told, “In spite of all this [evidence], they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.” (Psalm 78:32)

We are a culture influenced by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.  Things I think are awesome.  I think clear reasoning, and evidential based thinking are great tools.  But some things can never be proven scientifically, they can only be proven experientially.  (How do you measure the smell of a chocolate chip cookie or the feel of the sea breeze on your face?)

The Bible is filled with people who risked everything based on a dream.  Joseph married Mary because of a dream.  David risked his life for a voice.  Moses became a leader because of a bush.  How easy would it have been to walk away from those things?  How easy to chalk up the experience to a poor night’s sleep?

But they didn’t.  They saw the evidence for what it was.  They recognized God.  They knew something more was happening.  We don’t need standard deviation and statistical calculations to tell us God is real.  We just have to be open to the ways he already operates and not try to explain them away.

doing God’s will

Category : different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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What do you think of when you hear someone say “I want to do God’s will”?

If you’re like me you think it means something big.  Like moving to Tibet or Africa.  Or maybe eating all your vegetables.  While there’s no doubt God has big plans for our lives, for once “thinking big” is the wrong direction.  I believe that if we want to do God’s will, we should “go small.”

Isn’t God’s will simple things like loving our enemies?  Praying regularly?  Letting someone into merging traffic?  Leaving a generous tip?

How about simply refusing to sell your property like Naboth did.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that “doing God’s will” is measured in the day-to-day responses to God.  In fact, I think this might be the hardest thing about anyone’s journey with God.  If you’re going on a big mission that’s typically a decision you make once.  Do I go to Africa?  Do I quit my job?  Do I move to another town?

No doubt those are big questions, but they are just one question.

The real challenge comes when you have to answer repeatedly the questions of “how will I love my enemy?”  How will I show grace to someone?  How do I avoid temptations that lead to sin?  How will I build the Kingdom in my office when I sit in a cubicle from 9 to 5?

It’s those questions that take daily answering.  And it’s that process that’s the hardest part about doing God’s will.  So don’t feel less obedient just because you aren’t doing something “big”.  Sometimes size doesn’t matter.