Have you ever been high? I mean, really high. I have, and I have discovered that it adds a certain clarity to your vision. There is very little like the experience of standing high above the crowd and being able to see for miles. What did you think I meant?
I was an army brat, and we lived for three years in Germany. While in Europe, we had the opportunity to travel to half a dozen different countries, and one of the highlights of that time was our trip to the Swiss Alps.
I was a little disappointed. I was six and thought we were going to see elfs and instead, it turned out to just be a bunch of mountains, and then to add to the disappointment, my parents told me we would be in the clouds, and they weren’t fluffy.
Oh well, but even as a child, I remember being mesmerized by how far you could see.
While we were living in Australia, one of our favourite places to take visitors was Mount Glorious. With a name like that, you would assume that the view would be spectacular, and it was.
Last year, while in the UK and Europe, we had the chance to climb to the top of many castle towers to admire the view below, and we were never disappointed. We even made it to the top of Blarney Castle, and yes, I did kiss the stone.
In the scripture that was read earlier, David says Psalm 18:33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
Some of you might be more familiar with it in the King James Version where it says Psalm 18:33 He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.
It seems like, throughout the scriptures, the high points often happen on mountaintops. It was on Mount Sinai that God met with Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments. It was on Mount Ararat that the Ark came to a rest when the flood waters subsided. It was on Mount Carmel that the prophet Elijah faced off against the priest of Baal and proved to them the power of God. And Jerusalem is often referred to as God’s Holy Mountain.
Time and time again, we read references in the Psalms to mountain tops and high places and David asks the question in Psalm 24:3 Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
In the New Testament, we are often told that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray and we read Mark 9:2–3 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them.
In churchy terms, that is called the Mount of Transfiguration. We are told in Matthew that when Jesus ascended into heaven, it was from a mountaintop, and in Revelation 21:10, John writes Revelation 21:10 So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.
People often talk about mountain top experiences, meaning a high point in their life, whether it is spiritual, relational or regarding their career.
It was April 3rd, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. said “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land.”
Last week, my message was “Lessons from the Pit,” this morning, we are going to take a few moments and look at “Lessons from the High Place.”
1) It’s Not for Everyone Let’s go back to Psalm 24:3 Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
From that question, we can assume if the question is, who may? Then there is another group of people who may not! Psalm 24:3 is actually a rhetorical question, which is one that you aren’t really looking for an answer to.
Kind of like, “How dumb do you think I am?” Or “Can you believe I did that?”
So, David goes on to provide an answer to his own question. Psalm 24:4–5 Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the LORD’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their saviour.
We live in a society that is very universalist in its spiritual view. That is, many people, including many people in churches, think that just about everyone will get to heaven, and because of that, just about everyone will share the same spiritual blessings.
In other words, you don’t really have to have a relationship with God. You don’t have to acknowledge your sinfulness or accept the forgiveness offered by God in order to get your share of what He has to offer.
As long as you’re not really bad, everything will be all right. And by really bad, they mean serial killer bad.
Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation with someone about heaven and hell, and they are convinced that God shouldn’t send people to hell, I ask, “What about Hitler? Or Osama Bin Laden? Or people who spit their gum on the sidewalk?”
As someone said a while back, “We have condensed the Ten Commandments down to ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” And that is relative. For some, it means we shall not kill except those convicted of murder, whether they are guilty or not and for others, it means we shall not kill except for pre-born children.
But the bible is clear that God’s blessings, and that includes heaven are reserved for God’s people, and His people are people who have a relationship with Him.
Peter laid it out for the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38. Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
2) It Doesn’t Just Happen Throughout the bible, our spiritual sojourn is described as a journey, a walk, a race, and a climb. But never is it described as a sit-down or a lay-down. Our Christianity is a work in progress. It isn’t something that just happens. It is an activity, something that we work at, like any other activity in our lives, that we want to become better at.
If you are a golf player and you want to be a better golf player, you practice. Over and over again, you practice your cussing, your lying, making excuses and throwing your clubs. And it’s only after hours of practicing that you will be able to add 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 and get 3.
Actually, if you want to be good at golf, then you will have to practice your long game and your short game, and that’s why I’m no good at golf.
If your kid is taking piano, you insist they practice. If they are in hockey, you are up at 6 o’clock in the morning sitting in a cold arena so they can practice. Because if they are going to improve, they need to work at it.
We make the effort for the things in life that we think are worth the effort. We set goals, we plan on becoming better, we know where we want to be, and that is what we strive for. We read about those things, we Google them, and we talk to others who share our interests and our passion for those things.
That’s why there are magazines and websites and books on golf and sailing and needlepoint and raising your little dog and every other subject that you can imagine because people are serious about doing it, whatever it is, well and doing it, whatever it is, better.
And yet, when it comes to our Christian walk, too many of us are quite content to drift along and hope that we get the hang of it.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8–9 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Did you catch that? Keep putting into practice. . .
Again, we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:24 But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.
In Revelation 2:2 Jesus tells the church in Ephesus Revelation 2:2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance.”
So, how do you know what to practice and what to work at? You read the book. You do read the book, right?
And a great way to do that is in a community. We have a number of Life Groups throughout the week, which either study a specific book of the bible or use the bible as a base for their study.
This is a great way to be able to dig into God’s word and ask questions in a non-threatening environment. You can check out the various options by visiting www.hfx.church/hub
But that can’t be the only time you read your bible. And I’m surprised at how many Christians have never read the New Testament through, or for that matter, the four gospels. How can you say that you follow Jesus when you don’t even know his story? If you don’t have a bible, let me know; I have a box full of them.
Remember, if you want to get to the high place, it will require effort. There is no helicopter, there is no elevator service, and you can’t take a tram.
3) It’s Easier with Help If you ever watch those extreme sports shows or see news stories about people who climb mountains, they don’t do it alone. Or at least those who succeed normally make the journey with others. The news stories about those who endeavour to climb a mountain or a rock face by themselves often end in tragedy.
And on your trip, you will need a guide. Align yourself with someone who has already walked where you want to go, someone who has been to the high places and knows the way. Some of that guiding is done on Sunday morning, but you really need it through the week in your day-to-day life and in the trenches.
Again, an important element can be found in the guidebook, your bible. Others have made the journey before, and many of their experiences are recorded in the New Testament.
That’s why we read in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. And in Galatians 5:16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
But sometimes, even when climbers have guides, they stumble or fall, and so you need to have those around you who will not only guide you but are there to help you when you fall, to encourage you and to tell you that you can do it.
Time and time again, in the New Testament, believers are told to encourage one another. Why? Because we need it, we don’t always get it right, and we need someone there to cheer us on and tell us we can do it.
Life doesn’t always treat us fairly, and we need someone to lean on, and when we stumble, we need someone to hold out their hand and help us up.
Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
Who is helping you on the climb?
4) The View from the Top is Worth It. Denis Waitley is a business leader, motivational writer, and speaker, and he writes, “Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating.”
I’m sure that each of you, at some time or another, has experienced that sensation. You have walked or climbed to an outlook, and five minutes before you got there, you wondered what you were thinking when you started up that path: you are hot and tired, your feet hurt, and you want to quit.
But then you come around a corner or break through the bush, and there is the “View,” and your breath is taken away.
Sometimes, it is the same way with our Christian walk; we seem to have been going uphill forever, and we wonder if we will ever arrive.
And it’s not always the fault of the hill, either. When we were living in Australia, I was with a group of guys from the church on a fishing weekend, and they decided to show me the view from a lighthouse on the coast.
It was a walk of a little over 4,000 miles all uphill, or so it seemed and as I was struggling along, panting, sweating, and wondering why I agreed to the insanity, a doctor in our church looked over at me and said, “Pastor you need to lose weight and get in shape.” And then I realized that nobody else was finding the walk nearly as tough as I was.
But when we got to the top of that path, and I could look out to either side of Double Island Point over Rainbow Beach and across the Pacific Ocean as far as the horizon, the walk was worth it.
Our spiritual walk is like that when we get to the high places. It puts everything in perspective.
You may want God to move the mountain, but God may want you to experience the view from the top.
First, you can see behind you, and that puts your past in perspective. Sometimes, it takes distance and time to put things in perspective. What seemed like a major setback at the time becomes smaller when viewed from a high place, and we can see the impact of an event that seemed inconsequential at the time.
It’s from that perspective that you can see that some things weren’t your fault. They happened because of the choices of other people. Things that you have been beating yourself up for years, you have forgiven others, but you are loathe to forgive yourself. When you look back and see it for what it really was, you can let go and put it behind you.
On the other hand, you might see things that you have been blaming others for and from your higher perspective, you realize that you were responsible, so you need to take steps to correct some things and make other things right. Perhaps you’ve been holding on to hurts that need to be released.
And you can see ahead to where you are going. You can see your goals and perhaps even see some of the obstacles that may stand in your way.
There’s no guarantee that you will see all of the obstacles. After all, it was Yogi Berra who said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future,” but there’s a pretty good chance you will see some of them.
From the high place, you can put some of those obstacles in perspective and see that they may not be as high as they will look when they are staring you in the face. When I was a teen, my sister was going through some struggles, and my dad bought her a poster that said, “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”
You may also see that you need new goals, that the ones that you set aren’t high enough or noble enough and that you need to stretch yourself more and set higher and nobler goals to achieve.
5) It’s Not a Place to Live If you have been to a high place, you know that while the view is incredible and there is a sense of achievement in your accomplishment, it isn’t the most hospitable place to set up residence.
The wind is strong, and the temperatures are extreme. Kind of one of those situations; it is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
One of my favourite places in the world is Swallowtail Lighthouse on Grand Manan Island. I played there as a kid in the summer, and we always try to get there on our visits and the views are absolutely breathtaking.
But to live there? All your food would have to be carted down the steps and along a long wooden boardwalk. If there were an emergency, there would be no fire truck or ambulance able to get there, and in the wintertime, you wouldn’t be able to get off without shovelling forever. But the view is gorgeous.
In our spiritual lives, being at a high place is wonderful and refreshing, and the view is breathtaking, but that isn’t where we are supposed to live. We are supposed to make an impact on this world and on the people who live in it, and that is why we need to come down from the mountain.
Often in the New Testament, you will read that Jesus went up to a mountain to pray or took his disciples up a mountain, but nowhere does it say that Jesus stayed on the mountain. Instead, we read passages like Luke 9:37 The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus.
We need those mountaintop experiences to draw us closer to God to permit us to see more clearly, and to allow us to refocus, but then we need to come back down from the mountain and meet the crowd in the world we are supposed to change. It was Sid Caesar who said, “In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed.”
So today I would encourage you to seek out the high places in your relationship with God but understand that we weren’t called to live in a monastery high above the world. We were called to make an impact on those around us and to help lead them to the high places as well.