The High Places

I have recently been reading through the historical books of the Old Testament: 1 & Kings, 1 & Chronicles.  I love history, so I enjoy pouring over the details of kings, timelines, and intersections with major historical events in the Ancient Near East – you know, all that geek stuff most don’t pay attention to!  Bad rulers are scolded for their tolerance of foreign religion to run rampant through their land, while good kings are praised for tearing down the idols left by their predecessor.

Though I have read through these sections before, there is a reoccurring phrase that keeps jumping out at me.  Over a dozen times, even after good kings are praised, scripture adds the phrase:

The high places, however, were not removed.

The high places were locations of cultic worship associated with Baal, Molech, and Asherah, among other foreign gods.   They were typically located outside of cities on hilltops or mounds, perhaps contributing to the name, high places.  Another explanation to the name comes from the idea that Baal was associated with being god of the clouds, mountaintops, and other high places.  Over time however, they could be found anywhere.

I wondered why these high places were so difficult to purge from the land, even among the best of rulers.  I wondered if their location – remote and out of the way – made it seem like they were not worth the trouble of identifying and dismantling.  After having pegged the obvious perpetrators – large temples to Baal, Asherah poles set up in prominent places in the cities and in the temple in Jerusalem – perhaps traveling about the countryside for these small, crudely fashioned shrines seemed pointless.  Or maybe after spending time ridding the country of the large idols, kings figured they had other business to attend to.  Like modern-day politicians, perhaps they figured they had sufficiently grabbed the headlines; it was time to move on to other policy issues.  Yet, these historical writers note time after time that the high places were not removed.

It occurred to me, however, that as easy as it is to question these good kings, I have high places in my own life that seem too difficult to tackle.  Truth be known there are places in the remote areas of my heart and mind that I don’t want to make the effort to tear down.  It would be difficult to tackle and besides, those places are hardly observable to others.  And dare I say that part of me doesn’t even want to take them down.  After all, I try to read the Bible, develop a regular prayer time, and engage in other practices that bring me closer to God.  I just walked through my Fruit of the Spirit year in review.  Aren’t I doing enough?

The high places, however, were not removed.

Reading this over and over, I don’t want this to be true of me.  The first step, I suppose, is to simply acknowledge that they exist and that they have more allure than I give them credit for.  More than once I have found my mind or attitude drifting – wandering the remote countrysides of my heart and mind – only for that phrase, the high places,  to come to mind.  It is enough to give me pause and question what my next choice will be.

So what are the high places in your life?  When all is written, will it be recorded that you had the courage to go beyond the obvious to sweep clean all the unseen areas of your heart?  Or will it read: The high places, however, were not removed?

The Fourth Commandment, Pt. 2

The following is another excerpt from chapter five of Ten Essential Words.


So how do we take the essence of the Fourth Commandment – how do we embrace the Sabbath – without grasping at the shadows?  We begin by going back to the original intent of this practice – rest and worship.  We begin to incorporate a rhythm to our lives that includes regular times of rest and practices that inspire the worship of God.  To do that, we have to engage the biggest enemy of rest in our culture: busyness.

Nothing robs our soul more of this rhythm of rest than a busy schedule.  Busyness or hurriedness has become almost epidemic in our culture today.  Initially, we learn that busyness is simply the necessary evil that will get us ahead in life.  Then we notice that it is not even regarded as evil anymore, it is just a way of life.  Eventually, we even begin to wear our busyness like a badge of honor that says, “I’m important.  I’m productive.”   Think about it for a moment: what is one of the most common responses to the question “How was your week?”  “Busy”, of course.  And we nod our head indicating our week was busy as well.  We even nod in approval as if to say, “Good job, keep yourself busy.”  How often do we decline social invitations with the reply, “I’m sorry, but I’m busy that day.”  Or simply offer the general observation, “I’m soooo busy right now.”  And the kicker is that all those responses are perfectly acceptable in our culture – even admirable.

Our western culture has become a culture of work, where rest is viewed as a luxury when all that needs to be done is accomplished (if it ever does get accomplished).  We fill our lives with devices to manage our busyness: daily calendars to keep our busy schedule, blackberrys and other PDA devices to tell us where our next appointment is, watches that constantly remind us we are late for that appointment, and cell phones so that we can squeeze another conversation into any spare moment.  We live fast-paced lives and tell ourselves that rest is for retirement spent out on a golf course.  Maybe one day, but not now – we are too busy.  Author Wayne Muller sums it up this way:

People who have a lot of money and no time, we call ‘rich’.  And people who have a great deal of time but no money, we call ‘poor.’  A ‘successful’ life is one in which one is always terribly busy, working hard, accomplishing great things, and making a great deal of money.

These things, such as productivity, money, and achievement, are not bad things in and of themselves.  But if we are going to take Sabbath seriously, we have to first admit that these things also have the potential to completely erase the notion of rest from our schedule.  Rarely do we write the word rest into our calendar.  Our iPhone seldom beeps at us, reminding us that it is time to slow ourselves and enter into a time of reflection and worship.