To Misquote Garth Brooks, Maybe You Have Low Friends in High Places

The Low-Down on High Places

In the ancient Middle East, there were worship centers called “high places”, where all kinds of pagan ritualistic mischief took place. The key word here is “pagan”, and it’s safe to say that it is probably hard for the average person reading this blog to imagine what went on there. (Think: really bad.) Since they revolved around polytheism, sex, and drug use, the one true God of Israel naturally condemned both them and anyone who used them.

“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” (2 Kings 12:1-3, NIV).

Read through 2 Kings sometime. It describes a society full of treachery and deceit, with murder and betrayal on almost every page. The Kings of Israel and Judah were a dangerous bunch, and the good ones were few and far between. Joash became King over Judah at age seven, and actually had godly counsel around him. He did right in the sight of the Lord during all of his 40 year reign, but did not, however, remove the high places.

Maybe That’s Where “Getting High” Came From?

“High Places” is a somewhat euphemistic title given to the pagan worship centers out in the mountains and countryside in Israel. Idolatry, pagan rituals, illicit sacrifices, prostitution, and all kinds of carnal activity took place there in the name of “worship”. The high places were sort of secret men’s clubs, somewhat hidden and off the beaten paths–but every man in Israel knew what went on there. Pagan rituals encouraged men to substitute a spiritual walk with sexual ecstasy as they worshipped the goddess of fertility (known variously as Ashtoreth, Ishtar, Astarte, or Asherah).

high places

The High Places were holdovers from the nations and cultures Israel defeated to take the Promise Land, and the reason they weren’t torn down is because guys liked to go and sin there. Funny how so little really changes with men over all these years… Men don’t necessarily call it worship, but they still go to particular places where the allure of feminine sexuality is powerful and seductive. Even church-going men will check their Bibles at the door to enjoy the atmosphere, just like the pagans did at the high places.

Funny thing, when you take away men’s pet sins they will insult you, call you names, and even resort to violence to keep being able to do them. When Gideon tore down his father’s Asherah pole, the Bible says “The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son [Gideon]. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” (Judges 6:30)

Hebrew men were so involved with pagan worship that they were willing to kill to preserve it. They loved doing low things in high places… In later times, a couple of the good Kings brought reform to Israel and helped turn people back to God; but that was the exception rather than the rule; all too often the high places remained. They were sort of a secret, “pet” sin that men kept in reserve, so they could go there to “worship”.

Obvious Hypocrisy

At first glance it may seem hard to believe that any form of spiritual revival could take place when such sinful sanctuaries remained. How could Israel outwardly worship the Lord but then keep on sneaking around to wallow in such dirty sins? How could they love God but hold on to some carnal pleasure in reserve? Can you imagine? Acting religious but harboring evil desires?

Upon reflection, it’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it? This is still happening today. The rich and powerful still have secret places where they can go sin. But let’s bring it home a bit: It’s not just them, but it is US. We love God outwardly but secretly worship other, carnal, false gods. (And before you women feel too smug about men’s obvious weaknesses, remember that lusting for material things, status, or control are just as much of a carnal sin as sitting in the men’s club…) We may sometimes feel moved to have revival, but then we fail to remove some of our “high places”. (And apparently the Lord wants us to choose between those and HIM.)

What are your pet sins, your secret sanctuaries? Do you ever live outwardly as a Christian even while you are at the same time judgmental, greedy, lustful, selfish, hateful, critical, anxious, bitter, covetous or proud? The concern that crosses our minds over Israel’s idolatry is the same concern we should have about ourselves. Do you have any high places? Take an inventory of the secret sanctuaries you harbor, and consider tearing. Them. Down.

Places, High and Low

High upon the mountain, or way back among the hills
There were pagan temples where a man could get some thrills.
Temple priestesses would stimulate the men’s virility
Calling them to worship with the goddess of fertility.
Participants who worshipped there were very normal men
Who visited high places and then just went home again.
Improbable, you say? These hypocrites could not be saved,
When claiming to love God while they are secretly depraved!
And yet that is my story. I love God, and want to win,
But there are idols in my life. I harbor secret sin.
Lord, when there are idols in my heart that make you frown,
Help me feel your love, and Jesus, help me Tear. Them. Down.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Hearts Getting Harder Have Nothing to do With Arteries

When you work with your hands, your skin can get toughened so much that you form callouses. Then it becomes tougher, harder, and less sensitive. The writer of Hebrews suggests that the same thing can happen to our hearts.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14, NIV)

Having faith in Jesus and being his follower does not make anyone perfect. Even after becoming Christians, it is possible to turn away from the living God and to be subject to a sinful, unbelieving heart. Anyone who has experienced genuine saving faith can never lose their salvation; however, it is possible to turn away from walking with God and to go our own direction. As Christians we do it all the time.

Baby Steps…

Here’s a familiar list for those of us who sin: We dabble in sin, we even do things over and over because we repeat favorite sins, we rationalize the impact of sin, and we do things “just this once” or “just a little bit”. Maybe it’s fun, maybe it feels good, or maybe it’s what we have always done; but our sinful nature will never truly give in to our Spiritual nature. All the while our hearts grow a little more calloused and our sinful nature hangs around, being opportunistic. Like Jason from the Halloween movies it keeps rising up to try to inflict death and destruction. I’ll grant that not every sin is progressive, but when we dabble in sin, our hearts can fall victim to evil. When it comes to sin, can you predict which one will lead to others?

hard hearts

The Imperfect Hypocrite

The presence of our carnal nature insures that Christians will never be perfect in this life. The biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. Repeat that: the biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. I know, right? But this passage isn’t just talking about mistakes, it is describing selfish repetition of sin without repentance… It refers to daily stuff that weaves its way into our hearts and minds and won’t let go.

Sin can be the covetousness inspired by Pinterest, the lure of porn, the hateful thoughts about some of those idiots out there, or even the smug self-righteousness of feeling more spiritual than others. Those things and more are woven into our lives every day, and if you think about it, the world actually offers us a continual bombardment of sin pelting our hearts with little barbs or subtle temptations.

As a result, our hearts can be hardened to sin, and we end up in places we never thought we’d go. We become calloused to sin, or (like the frog in the pot of tepid water on its way to boiling) comfortable with it a little at a time, taking small steps deeper into darkness… Generally, we don’t go straight from church to the evil empire, but sin has a cumulative effect, moving us away from the Truth one step at a time. How do we keep from believing those lies and taking those steps?

What Friends are For

One of the answers is as close as your best Christian friend. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “encourage one another daily.” Who is it that encourages you? Who do you encourage? Someone you know is struggling with something in their life, and could use some kind words. Maybe they’ve wandered into sin, or accepted some of the enemy’s lies about their true value. Encourage them. You may just keep them from ending up with calloused hearts.

Sinful Hearts, Sinful Thoughts

Sin bombards us every day as we are trying to make our way–
It sneaks up, breaks up, speaks up! Offers temptation, carnal relations,
Uses multi-media to offer sensations, holding the carrot of gratifications;
Sin calls us in a step at a time:
You’re thinking of sin while you’re reading this rhyme!
Watch that Pinterest, could be a sin test,
Calling you to look at something of interest,
When you know you love it so that it can make you covet, though.
You’d never admit that it made you kinda lit,
But your heart gets hit, and you sin a little bit…
That’s how it starts to harden your heart,
All those little malice’s building up callouses,
Whether that sin is New York or Dallas’s.
Fight against sin. Don’t let it win,
I’m telling you again don’t even let it in.
Encourage one another to do what’s right,
Gotta help a brother continue in the fight!
Give a little love with the message that you send,
And it might help someone get through to the end.
It’s not fiction, it may cause friction,
But take ahold of Christ and keep your conviction.
There. I said it. So don’t you forget it;
Sin will try to win, but don’t. You. Let it.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness” Isn’t In the Bible. But Wait! Maybe It Is, After All!

The Phrase “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” isn’t in the Bible. I know this would disappoint any number of Grandmas who have used it to exhort unwilling 10-year-old boys to practice cleanliness in a stronger way, but it’s just not there; you can look fro that quote in Scripture and you won’t find it (sorry). But if you dig a little deeper, you might find something about cleanliness and Godliness that could apply to ALL of us.

Many people grow up concerned about the sins they have committed and the potential punishment those sins might carry. If that has ever been of concern to YOU, the Bible has good news: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV). From a theological standpoint, our sin was settled once and for all by Christ’s sacrifice at the cross, and we have been granted righteousness in cosmic court on Judgment Day. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This means that from a statutory perspective, the penalty of our sin has been paid.

But Wait, There’s More

See, from a practical standpoint, we still struggle with our cleanliness and we have to deal with the presence of sin. We still live in a fallen world, and possess a carnal (fleshly) nature that is contrary to things of the Spirit. Sometimes we still make choices that make us feel like godliness is far away… 1 John 1:9 is a well-known verse which confirms that sin doesn’t just magically go away, and is something we need to contend with. I’ve heard it called “the Christian bar of soap” because it presents the practical means for us to practice spiritual cleanliness in a dirty world.

cleanliness

John points out in verses 8 and 10 that all of us will struggle with temptation and sin, and there will be times when we make selfish choices or do something stupid or think something hateful. Even though we are free from the penalty of sin, until we go to glory we will still deal with the presence of sin. We get dirty. When that happens, John says we should confess. This confession is not mere assertion, or rote recounting of sin, but part of a heartfelt desire to turn away from sin and to embrace the teachings of Jesus. If confession ever becomes “going through the motions”, then watch out because it may become something less than true confession. But when we truly confess “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We can be cleansed in a dirty world. We can be cleansed from dirty thoughts and dirty choices. Confess. Cleanse. Repeat. Maybe godliness isn’t as far away as you think.

The Best Kind of Cleanliness

Jesus died for sinners, and he paid the penalty
So we could stand before the Father, clean as we could be.
When we stand before the throne and Jesus claims us for his own,
We won’t stand there all alone, and sin and death will both be gone!
But here on earth, we struggle with the presence of our sin,
And sometimes wonder how we made the mess that we are in.
When that occurs, the Father says, we have the solid hope
Of cleansing if we just apply the “Christian bar of soap”:
Confess your sins, and mean it. Do it every day you live,
And God is faithful, promising to cleanse us and forgive.
Since we wrestle with our sin, it’s really pretty neat
To know God says it’s simple. Just Confess. Be cleansed. Repeat.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

David Failed: So Why Would We Want to Have a Heart Like His?

David was called “a man after God’s own heart”. It seems impossible that such a flagrant sinner could love God, yet there it is. It hardly makes sense, but when I really think about it, they could say the same thing about me…

 

David Had a Heart Like His

Start with a boy, who, tending sheep,
Beneath the stars, too in love to sleep,
Looks up at the heavens' glistening art,
And comprehends the Creator's heart.

Least regarded, chosen King--
Transformed by a giant, a rock, a sling!
A man who gazed at God above, 
And understood. And fell in love.

Powerful warrior, loyal friend,
Head of the kingdom without end;
Poet, prophet, singer: Dance,
Caught in the grip of God's romance!

Love the Lord and love His word!
Let your songs and praise be heard,
Reaching countless human ears,
Timeless for a thousand years!

But O! That sword can cut two ways:
For those same lips that sang God's praise
Will kiss their way into a fall,
A story shown and know to all...

Scheming, lying, murderous lust;
Broken hearts and broken trust,
Written down for all to see,
Captured for eternity.

Deep your capacity to transgress!
But deeper, a longing to confess:
To bring your contrite, broken heart
Back to the Maker's matchless art.

Honest now, with no pretense,
No vain attempt at self-defense,
Broken as a consequence...
Confessing, teaching us that THIS
Is how to have a heart like His.

Matthew 22:37: “And Jesus said to him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy god with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…” In spite of all the despicable things he did, David loved God honestly and passionately. He’s not a role model because of the way he killed Goliath, or because of his valor in battle. We should pay attention to the way he acted when he failed utterly. If you haven’t been there, you will be. Consider David, and then consider yourself.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread