I love two countries. And I love their people. The two countries have felt so different to me in most ways. But currently both of my beloved homes ache and groan in similar fashion.
On a recent visit to our capital city we found the streets moving unexpectedly slow and quiet, with an edge of disconcerting emptiness. On that same day but in a completely different accent my social media feeds shouted quick and fervent with the exact same edge of disconcerting emptiness.
So many different shades of my belonging echoing two simple words: What now?
Currently, it's all the electing. All the choosing. All the winning and losing. All the Final Results.
But there are other seasons too. Other circumstances that land us bewildered and searching.
We can agitate among all the confounding that life provides with the most common refrain crooning:
While the question seemingly begs for a final answer to settle and soothe, we often find the most realistic comfort in the life long reminders we practice in tiny bits every day.
This is not new. None of it.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
We don’t have insurmountable struggles.
We have old ones.
And our next best step?
Also the same as yesterday. Last week. Twenty years ago.
Pray for those in leadership.
Love, love, love those neighbors.
(Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14)
Work as if working for Jesus.
Hope in the Lord.
(Psalm 147:11; Psalm 130:7)
And do not fear.
(John 14:27; Hebrews 13:6)
DO NOT FEAR.
Any awareness we are allowed of the reality of our perceived control can remind us where true sovereignty rests and sustains.
Our lack of control does not in any way mirror His.
When pressed into doubt and wondering we can often look to something outside of us to bring help and comfort. Some concrete thing we feel deep admiration and respect for that can help gain some semblance of control again.
“Dear children keep yourselves from idols.” I John 5:21
Idols are not just oddly shaped statues in some other foreign place. In fact, chopping down such physical things might have been far easier (so dangerous and costly still) than routing idols we've taken into the very fabric of our lives. The gods we honor with our eyes and hearts and worry and time. The places we count on for provision and strength.
The places we feel panic when we sense something slipping away.
‘But I NEED this thing. It is MINE. I use it for good!’
Once upon a time there were high places. Elevated mounds maybe on a hill or maybe in the valley, but raised places where people would go to worship.
Most commonly these ‘high places’ were known for pagan offerings. Molech, Asherah, Baal---deities honored for their power and control that required high costs of their followers including child sacrifice. There was no relationship involved with these gods. Just placation and appeasement. Pacifying religious practices completely bound up in fear.
Those Old Testament high places were raised one stone at a time.
Sometimes by pagan prophets. Sometimes by the people themselves.
Sometimes by Kings.
Solomon, honored as the richest and wisest of Israel’s kings--the one chosen to build God’s holy temple-- also raised pagan worship places to please his wives. (I Kings 11:6-11) We weren’t made to serve two masters and Solomon’s duplicity ultimately led to his downfall. (No amount of money or power will ever make one immune to reckoning.)
The high places and their worshipful degradation always led to defeat somehow.
The leaders of God’s people were called upon time and again to eradicate the ‘high places’. To remove them completely. (Numbers 33:52, Deuteronomy 12:2, 2 Chronicles 14:3,5; 2 Kings 23; Ezekiel 6:2-4; Hosea 10:8; Amos 7:9)
And obedient leaders would eliminate the high places only to have someone come along and rebuild them.
It has always been difficult to completely eradicate fear.
In fact, the toppling of any idol has never been one-and-done but instead a daily rehearsal. A regular choosing.
God commanded that He be the One and Only in his people’s lives and instead of the many scattered high places of worship, He planned for His people to have one place of worship. (Deuteronomy 12:1-32) This One Holy Place was at first a transportable tabernacle and then a permanent temple in Jerusalem.
God trained His nation to seek that One Place. Not just to be bossy or demanding, but, I think, to make a very loud point.
You see, it was not so much about the place when it was all said and done. (John 4:21-26)
It was, instead, entirely about the Provision. (It always is.)
God called His people to honor and focus on the one Most Holy Place. A place only one high priest could go. The place where God’s presence was seated between the cherubim.
This was the place where God’s Name resided. (1 Chronicles 22:6-19; 2 Chronicles 6:10)
“The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and covered the ark and its carrying poles…. Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud…for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”
2 Chronicles 5:7,8,13b,14
There was a curtain dividing the Most Holy Place from the other parts of the temple.
“Make the curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.”
Exodus 26:31, 33
God instructed His people to honor that separating curtain. He designed it with gorgeous hues to draw the eyes.
He didn’t want anyone to miss it!
Because someday that elaborate and ornate curtain was going to rip cleanly in two.
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
It was always His plan.
A doorway forever opened.
It was the One place—His place-- that would join us to Him forever. Distinctive from the worldly and prevalent deity worship of appeasing placation, God’s sanctuary designed inherent as a relationship restored by the Blood of the Spotless Lamb.
Any worship that sets God as distant and away should be circumspect.
Let’s read that again and say it out loud.
“Any worship that sets God as distant and away should be circumspect.”
Of course, we praise our Father. Of course, we honor Him as High and Lifted Up.
“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”
But that same God manifests through all of time as Near and Alongside.
“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge…”
When our Father, the one true and living God, chose to physically represent to us He chose ‘God With’ for His Name. (Matthew 1: 22-23)
This is remarkable and distinct.
It (He) changes everything.
And this moment (every moment) is the perfect time to be reminded.
Where do we turn when panic creeps in?
I have friends who beat drums. I have friends who set cleansing fires. I have friends who think those things are strange. But. We all have our drums and fires.
What do I do to calm my fears?
What actions disguise my lack of control?
Where do I turn?
Do I set another stone onto my own created high place?
Do I venture to a high place someone else suggests?
Or do I keep my eyes on that torn curtain?
The place where I am restored to God through Christ in fellowship with His Holy Spirit that He has allowed to live in me.
“Therefore brothers and sisters since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
Wonder of glorious wonders!
There is no time like the present.
This is The Victory.
The only Final Result that matters.
Him in Us. Reconciled.
No one can take this from you.
Don’t return to the high places of fear and dread. Don’t beat those same wearing cadences.
Go to the one altar. The Holy of Holies. The most sacred seat of Yahweh God where the curtain has been torn for all of time ushering us in.
There, in a place where ALL are welcome, everyone can find their place.
We may not find our answers. We may not see victory as the world defines it for us.
But we will most certainly be nearer to Him.
And I’m confident—this, He, will always be enough.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
There is no time like the present!