worshiping the high places

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

……….

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.

guard your heart

2

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

……….

“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.

laws of physics: equal and opposite reactions

Category : God, different, faith, miracles, sin

……….

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.

what has God done for you lately?

Category : God, Mother Teresa, Psalms, sin, trust

……….

Sometimes I am amazed, and a bit ashamed, how readily I turn away from God.  It seems that no matter how much God does for me, the minute a problem arises I start wondering why God has abandoned me.  I can’t help but ask, “what have you done for me lately?”

Sadly I am not alone in this.  Maybe I should be encouraged by that.  But I am not.  We all suffer from this same problem.  We all wonder of God, “what have you done for me lately?”  Even Mother Teresa had her moments of doubt and discouragement.  Although in many ways it seems her life proves her exceptionalism in her faith: she experienced an intense interaction with God early in her life – and then virtually nothing for decades.  My faith would have crumbled.  Her faith remained.

We’ve been this way for centuries.  Isn’t that the point of Adam & Eve?  Satan told them, “God is holding out on you.”  And they said, “yeah the garden is nice, and not worrying about zipping our pants is sweet, but what has God done for us lately.”  And so they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

I wonder, what our lives would look like if we remembered his past actions?  What if we took those things seriously instead of tossing them aside?  How many miracles would we need before we believed?  One?  Zero?  Because if I really trusted God, and if I really put all my faith in him, I bet it wouldn’t take a miracle in my life to help me to believe.  How many miraculous healings do you need to see before you think, “wow, maybe there is something to this God character?”

But I don’t take him seriously.  Oh I say I do, and on the good days maybe I get close.  I guess that’s part of the struggle of our faith.  It’s this conflict that reminds me not to become too prideful.  Because when it comes to crunch time I find myself demanding, “what have you done for me lately?!”  I am no better than anyone else in that regard.

Which why I am grateful God is merciful.  As the Psalmist said:

Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.

reader comment: will the evildoers never learn

Category : Jesus, faith, living a life of faith, reader comments, sin

Chris, over at Got-Fruit.net, had a good addition to Friday’s post “will the evildoers never learn:”

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1st John 1:9)

Perhaps this is a case of semantics, but I would say that it’s not that we’re captives of sin but rather that as you later say in your post; “it still lingers” ie;  we still struggle with sin even though we’ve been sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ.  In my own experiences as a Christian I can recall being so occupied with being good; not sinning, that I missed the point of Christianity, that Christ has already done all of the work, therefore there’s nothing that I can do to add to it. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

When you enter into a relationship with God, you are most certainly set free from the final bondage of sin (something I should have made more clear in that post).  Yet it seems that on some level we are willing to pick that bondage back up.  We seem to want to be put back into slavery. And the truth is, we do this willingly.

So while we are fully sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ (something I agree with, and believe the Bible teaches, and am grateful to Chris for pointing out) I think we are at least perceptually controlled by sin, if not in actual reality.  And as most psychologists would tell you, perception is reality. We live by how we see the world.

I don’t know where I fall on this fine line of semantics.  Maybe this is just a word game, or maybe it’s meaningful theology.  But what I do know is sin destroys people’s lives.  And if we’re not careful, even though Jesus’ death atones for our sins, we end up living out a life as if it didn’t.

will the evildoers never learn

1

Category : God, R3, failure, sin

……….

I rarely start out with such inflammatory headings.  R3 is a place for people to explore what it means to live out a life of faith.  I am fully aware that a lot of people who read R3 aren’t self-identified Christians.  That’s fine.  You don’t have to be.  So while I don’t pull any punches, I also don’t intentionally mean to offend people.  Insulting someone is never a way to show God’s love for each of us.

But there is something about the nature of sin that’s been bothering me the last few weeks.  And there is no easy way to say it.  The fact is, the damage sin causes shouldn’t be “sugar coated.”  So allow me to be as blunt as David was when he wrote Psalm 53: “Will the evildoers never learn?

I’m not the first to ask.  And I won’t be the last.  Ever since that fateful decision by Adam & Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, things have been a mess.  It seems that we simply can’t stop following in their footsteps.

Why?  Why is it “evildoers never learn.”  And by the way, those evildoers – that’s us, all of us.

Are we so blinded by our pride that we can’t even see where our actions lead?  Are we so sure that we can fix any problem we make that we simply don’t care?  Or is the devil just too good at tricking us into believing that God is holding out.  Or maybe we are just so blind we fall for his same tricks every time.  Even Tom couldn’t fool Jerry every time!

What I find disturbing in all of this is that I am no different.  And neither are you.  We are all held captive to sin.  We all fall short of where we were designed to be.  And none of us can seem to break the cycle.  That’s how powerful sin is.  That’s how much control it has.

That’s why Jesus is so important.  He’s broken the chains of sin.  When we are in relationship with him, in God’s eyes we are sin free.  But sin still lingers on us.  It still hurts our relationships with others (and God).  It still causes pain and suffering.  It still destroys like a thief in the night.

Pavlov, in his famous experiment, taught dogs to salivate by hearing a bell.  If dogs can do something like that, why can’t we break free from sin?

God never gives us more than we can handle

1

Category : God, bible, hope, sin, trust

……….

God will never give us more than we can carry.

Or at least that’s what we’re told.  But is this true?  Unfortunately it’s actually a more complicated answer than you might guess.  The Bible never uses this exact phrase (the closest is 1 Corinthians 10:13).  Which means God never explicitly promises this protection.  Yet I believe it is true.  I believe that it’s in line with God’s character to never give us more than we can carry.

Sometimes, though, we pick up extra baggage along the way.

It wasn’t God’s intention for us to have this new problem (whatever it may be).  We did it all on our own.  Yet we start blaming God for what we’re experiencing.  As if he’s somehow responsible for us ignoring his advice!

Sin leads to things God never intended for us to handle.  The more we move away from how we were designed, they more things break down.  That’s a fundamental principle of how the world works.  If you build a house and forget to lay the foundation first, you’re going to have problems.  If I’m trying to write out this post and I just randomly type letters, you won’t be able to read it (some of you may suspect I do this already).

God may never give us more than we can handle, but we have a knack of making things difficult on ourselves.

Why do we do it then?  Why do we fall into the traps of addictions or greed when we know it will only harm us?  I have  to wonder if this is partly a pride issue.  We’ve become so full of ourselves, that we think we must be the solution to everything.  So we just keep piling on problem after problem, bad choice after bad choice with the foolish belief that we can “handle it.”

In his book, Wide Awake, Erwin McManus says, “I love this about Daniel and Esther – they did what they could and let God fill in the blanks where they didn’t know how it could possibly work out.” (Wide Awake, p. 73)

We worry so much about having everything perfectly mapped out before we move and act.  But maybe that’s not always the right way to do it.  Maybe what we need to do most is to act, and trust God will be in the gaps.  Maybe the reason we have so little faith in miracles, is that we leave so little room for them.

I believe that God never gives me more than I can handle.  But I also believe that 9 times out of 10 I’m an idiot.  I allow my pride to control my behaviors, and I end up making my burden too heavy.

Here is my challenge to you (and myself).  Something will come up this week.  I don’t know what it will be.  But it will be more than you know how to handle.  Pray about it.  And then whatever God tells you to do – act on it.  Don’t worry if you don’t know how it will shake out.  Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what the “plan” looks like.  Trust that God’s foolishness is better than your wisdom, and God’s weakness is better than your strength.  I think we’ll all be amazed at what happens when we let God be God.

knowledge of good and evil

2

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

……….

It seems that we are in a constant search for freedom.  We want to be free; we long to be free.  Yet we always seem to end up in bondage.  This weekend Steve McNair (who always seemed to have a knack of beating my beloved Steelers) was murdered.  The police aren’t saying exactly what happened, but from early reports it looks like it is a murder suicide (or possibly a double murder).  It also appears that McNair was having an affair with a young woman.

Now if this is all true (and it appears to be) my question is simple.  Why?  Why did McNair feel the need to be with someone other than his wife?  Was it because he felt trapped?  Was it because he wanted the freedom of sexuality?  Because it sure looks like what he got wasn’t freedom, but pain and suffering.

When God created Adam and Eve he gave them one command, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had complete freedom.  They could have any fruit but one.  Yet they couldn’t resist that tree.  And they exchanged their freedom for suffering.

They thought God was holding out on them.  They thought that rule was silly, and just God being insecure and maybe even a jerk.  They thought they knew better than the person who created them.  They thought they could violate the one rule God set forth.

Have you noticed how we didn’t get knowledge of good, we just got knowledge of evil?

Adam and Eve already had complete freedom.  They already had a perfect relationship with God.  They were even soul mates.  They lived in comfort.  They were provided for.  They lived without fear and guilt.  What they got wasn’t knowledge of good – they already knew that just by looking around.  What they got was knowledge of what it means to suffer.

Steve McNair is no different than any of us.  We all sacrifice our freedom for temptations.  For some of us we give up freedom of heatlh to feed an eating disorder or drug addiction.  Some of us give up freedom of love to experience the bondage of lust and pornograhpy.  Whatever it is – we are all exactly like Steve McNair – vulnerable to temptation, because we think God is holding out on us.

As you go about your week, remember this story.  Don’t sacrifice your freedom for bondage.

abortion, murder and sin

Category : God, hope, sin

……….

Abortion.  Murder.  Greed.  Gossip.

As you read those think for a moment, which of them is worse?  Abortion?  Murder?  How do you decide?

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days after seeing stories about the recent murder of an abortion doctor.  The killer has said that more violence will happen at abortion clinics.  His justification is that he’s defending a life, and so it’s okay to murder someone in defense of the unborn.  That he’s essentially doing God’s work.

The problem is, sin harms us as much as it harms others.

Which makes me wonder if God sees sins differently.  In his eyes, is murder worse than lying?  Is it the same?  Better?  In all honesty I don’t have an answer.  I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and I’m not sure I find any one of them overwhelmingly convincing.  The truth is God sees all sin as an abomination.

How could he not?

He’s perfect and every time we fall short of that perfection it’s an attack and an insult on him.  In the Old Testament what I see is a God who is most irate not at the violence and warfare of the time.  Not at the slavery.  Not at the mistreatment of women.  But at idolatry and not believing in him.

That fact is enough to drive people away from Christianity and God.

It strikes us that God is egotistical.  That he can’t handle people not worshiping him.  But I don’t think that’s the case.  I don’t see how someone who created the universe exactly needs us to feed his ego.  What could I possibly say or do for God that would impress him.  Somehow I think saying, “Hey God I shot a golf round of 95 this weekend, isn’t that awesome?” would not impress him very much.  What’s a 95 to someone who created the vastness of space?

God is so upset about idolatry because he knows if there is no relationship with him, there is no hope.  We become more corrupt, more violent, less loving the further away from God we become.  So when we worship money, people, things, other gods, it strikes at the very core of what makes us, well, us.  It moves us away from how we were designed to live.

That’s where this killer of abortion doctor’s is.  He’s violated the way he was designed to live.  And now he has harmed himself, others, and even hurt the “reputation” of God.

God is abhorred by sin.  But we don’t like that answer.  We don’t want to believe that “all wrongdoing is sin.”  We’re much more comfortable with a sliding scale where murder is a sin but greed isn’t.  Where abortion is a sin but gossiping isn’t.  We want a sliding scale because we want to feel better about ourselves.  We want a sliding scale so we can be free to judge others, and not be judged ourselves.

what i’m watching: Prince Caspian

Category : CS Lewis, faith, sin, taking action, trust

……….

Both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are Christian allegories.  Meaning that behind the story is another message.  In this case, both movies focus heavily on the idea of redemption.  But what I find interesting is that they take completely different approaches to that message.  The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic story on it’s own rights.  The characters are compelling.  The action is intense.  And the plot is intriguing.  You can enjoy it even if you don’t know about the Christian undertones.  The Chronicles of Narnia, on the other hand, are only great stories (and now movies) if you keep the allegory in mind .

Let’s look at two examples where knowing the philosophy of C.S. Lewis radically changes the meaning of the story.  (**minor spoilers ahead**)

Example 1:   After suffering a major defeat, Prince Caspian loses hope.  He no longer believes Peter and the rest can help him.  And he certainly doesn’t believe Aslan can do anything.  So when he’s approached about receiving “power” to defeat his enemies, he agrees.  Unfortunately the power is that of the White Witch.  Both Caspian and Peter become entranced by her offer – the offer to destroy their enemies.

It’s no coincidence that the one person who knew what it was to succumb to the White Witch was the one to defeat her.

We sometimes think that the “best” Christians are the ones who don’t have to suffer temptation or sin.  That truly great Christians never have to struggle with these problems.  But I believe the people best suited to avoid sin and temptation are those who have had to overcome them.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Edmund had fallen for the same trick – she promised that he would be greater than his brother.  Edmund was able to defeat the White Witch not because he was somehow better than Peter or Caspian, but because he had overcome her once before.  He knew what that temptation looked like, and he was able to fight it off.

Example 2:  When Lucy stands alone on the bridge against an army – she stepped out first with no assurance, outside her faith in Aslan, that she would survive.  It was only after she acted that Aslan appeared.

We often think we must wait for God before we can act – but so often God doesn’t appear until we act.  It’s not because God is selfish or lazy, or even because he’s busy.  It’s because God wants us to grow.  Just like parents want their kids to learn new things, God wants us to learn new things.  And sometimes that means we have to step into uncertain situations.  Of course what we see in the movie is that Lucy was never really alone.  Aslan was with her the whole time.  She just needed to act first to find out.  That’s really the powerful undertone of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – even if Aslan doesn’t have any speaking parts in the scene, his presence is unmistakable.

Movies have a way of presenting things that can strike us on a different level.  One of the great things about movies is that you’re detached from the choices.  As an outsider we can see when someone goes awry.  We know that when a character in the movie goes against Aslan, bad things happen.  The characters don’t see it.  They are caught up in the moment.  They are too close to the action.  Too emotionally involved.  Movies, books, stories, give us a glimpse to see the reflection of our lives in their choices.

This is what C.S. Lewis was so good at doing – creating fantasy situations that in many ways are more real than our own lives.  I’ve never talked to the White Witch, but I know I have been tempted into taking short cuts.  I’ve never held off an army with a knife, but I know God has asked me to do crazy things and all I had to go on was my faith in him.

What would my life look like if I could see it from a distance?  Would I realize I was walking away from Aslan?  Away from God?  What would your life look like to me?