Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mountains and Altars

Sometimes, I just don't know what to do with the God in me. With the measure of God in me, that is.

There's a song by Brandon Heath that has what I think is one of the most powerful lyrics in Christian music. The song is "Your Love," and the lyric says: I tried to satisfy the hunger, but I never got it right. I never got it right. So I climbed a mountain, built an altar.

And I think there's where most of us go; I know it's where I go. Mountains and altars. We start doing the hard things or we start doing the "sacred" things and hope that somehow, these things will bring us to the Someone our hearts are longing for. 

We climb mountains, thinking, well, Abraham climbed a mountain. On Abraham's mountain, God provided. Moses climbed a mountain. On Moses's mountain, God was present. Jesus climbed a mountain. On Jesus's mountain, God sustained. All these prophets, all these fathers of the faith, all these holy men climbed mountains and they always found God there. Maybe...just maybe...I should climb a mountain.

So we set ourselves to work doing the hard things because no mountain is easy. We push ourselves to extremes, take ourselves to our limits, climb until the air is so thin that we can hardly breathe, and we start to think we can hardly make it. Until suddenly we look up and realize we've made it, but there's nothing there. There's nothing at the top of this mountain but hypoxia. All the air has been taken away from us, our very life hangs in the balance, and we're staring into emptiness as far as the eye can see. What gives?

It's rather simple, really; these are not our mountains. This is not the place to where God has called us. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the others - these men were called to the mountain; they didn't just go. They didn't climb mountains hoping, praying. They climbed mountains knowing because they'd already been told. So many of us spend our lives looking for God the hard way and He's never called us to do it. We won't find Him on the mountain unless He's told us that's where He'll be.

Nobody in the Scriptures ever climbed a mountain and found God by accident. Want to know where He really is? Ask the guys on the road to Emmaus. Ask the guys who were just walking along when God joined them. They were going from one place to another, from one journey to home. They had both feet firmly on the ground and they weren't doing the hard thing; they were doing the usual thing. They were doing the normal thing. They were doing the thing that they would actually do, and God joined them there. And when He did? There was enough fresh air in their lungs that they could actually talk to Him. 

We don't need mountains. Not unless God calls us to them.

And we don't need altars. We don't need to do the "sacred" things to find the presence of God. It's too easy for us to set up the sacred things as idols. We pray, read the Bible, go to church so faithfully, so hungrily that we don't even realize that we've come to believe more in prayer than in the God who hears us, more in the Bible than in the God who wrote it, more in going to church than going to the Cross. All of a sudden, our altars reveal themselves as shrines. We've done what seems sacred and have fallen wholly into the sacrilegious. 

Altars, like mountains, are not simply places where God hangs out, waiting for us. You've heard about the altar call? Well, that's real. You have to be called to the altar. Even the ordained priests in the time of the Temple had to be called to the altar; they had to be invited in. It wasn't a place you could simply go and find God. God had to call you there. God has to call you to the sacred things.

That's a tough pill for most of us to swallow. It just makes sense that God would be in the sacred things, doesn't it? But consider this: how many persons did Jesus encounter in the Temple? Not many, not persons whose stories we are given. He found them at the well, drawing water. He found them on the seashores. He found them in trees. (Okay, maybe just one guy in a tree. Let's be honest, though - if I thought I might see Jesus better, I'd probably climb a tree.) He wasn't waiting for them to do the sacred things, for them to come on holy ground; He met them on common ground and made it holy.

We don't need altars. Not unless God calls us to them.

Then what are we supposed to do? What do we do with the spiritual hunger when we're longing for more and that emptiness is gnawing at us? What do we do when all we can think of is to climb mountains and build altars?

We do the faithful thing. We do the normal thing. We do the usual thing and keep our eyes peeled for the God who comes beside us. We take fresh air into our lungs and prepare to speak should we be given the chance. We do the common things, on common ground, and trust that God, in His presence, will make it holy. We do what we do and let God do what He does. 

If He calls us to the mountain, we climb a mountain. If He calls us to the altar, we go. But if He does not, we stay. We live and love and breathe right where He's got us because it is here that He's most likely to show up. It is here where He will meet us. 

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