From Jim O'Brien
January 03, 2020

Invisible Barriers

Hi Friend,

Donna and I chose a French restaurant for dinner one evening. The owner/chef after 23 years in the U.S. still speaks with a thick accent. She knows French cuisine so well that she exceeded our expectations. When she came to our table, we engaged her in a conversation that quickly turned to her love of France.

"What do you miss most?" I asked, to which she described the community life that still exists. In animated and enthusiastic tones, she talked about visiting neighbors, sharing a glass of wine and talking for hours. "We all know one another," she said. "I've lived here 23 years and I only know one of my neighbors."

I thought about that for awhile

There was a time that people sat on the front porch in the evening and spoke to neighbors as they walked past. We knew everyone in our community, the names of their kids, where they went to church, where they worked, their hobbies, their favorite sports and something about their relatives. But barriers were erected that changed all that. It wasn't done maliciously or with purpose, but the result is the same.

What are the barriers? Sociologists have identified two items as the most severe culprits; television and air conditioning. The latter caused us to close our doors, shut the windows and keep our friends outside and the former drew our attention away from neighbors and fixed it on strangers on the other side of the continent. The trend begun by television is exacerbated a hundred times by iPads and cell phones.

The barrier erected in the life of our French chef is the distance between continents. It is external and physical, but it changed her spirit leaving an internal longing to fill the hole in her heart. I used to think that man is the being with the strongest desire for relationship. But I was wrong.

It is one of the fascinating enigmas of the universe that God wants to have a relationship with humans. As King David wrote, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Psalm 8:4)

This is exemplified by a time once when the Lord, came down from the third heaven and walked on earth. His purpose was to see for himself if Sodom and Gomorrah were as bad as reported. If so, he would destroy both cities. On the way he stopped for a meal with his friend Abraham. It's an interesting characteristic of God that he wants to share a meal with any human. But this friendship went beyond pleasantries. As the Lord was leaving, he turned to those who accompanied him and said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;" (Gen. 18:17). God wanted input from Abraham, a mere man, about His plan to destroy two cities. Could Moses add wisdom to God? Did Moses possess a greater capacity for love? The answer is a resounding "No!" But God was connected to Moses and wanted to know what was in his heart.

Most people know that Moses went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone from God. What is less well known is that just prior to receiving the law, Moses along with Aaron, his sons and the seventy elders of Israel were taken into the third heaven and ate a meal with the Lord. The story is in Exodus 24, "Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink." (Exodus 24:9-11)

However man may perceive God it staggers the imagination that God would choose to share a meal with simple humans.

A torrent of anti-Christian messages if flooding the world today in spite of clear evidence that rejecting the God of the Bible cuts man off from essential blessings.

What are the barriers that have been erected between man and God? The most visible are two, and it was not God that put them there. The first is a failure to recognize who the real God is.

Not so long ago, a member of our congregation who worked overseas for over a year returned with vivid descriptions of the striking difference between the culture of America and that of the third world country in which she worked. Oddly enough, the most obvious dissimilarity was religion, not just because she is a believer, but because of the damaging influence of pagan worship. The culture she visited was dominated by ancestor worship where families in abject poverty spend a small fortune on gold icons while their own children literally starve. She was aghast to witness such injustice and inhumanity in a country that numbered in the millions as a result of idol worship. People who don't know the true God lose blessings that naturally extend from a relationship with him. He is the civilizing influence that causes the Spirit of Justice to prevail.

A second barrier is forgetting his commandments. While the majority of Americans claim to be Christian, they know little about God or the Bible. Just as America enters the most precarious time in its history, there is a growing sense of apathy about whether God actually requires obedience to his laws. Jesus described such people in his day when he said, "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9)

Jesus wasn't saying these people didn't worship him. He said they worshiped him in vain. It was an unproductive worship because they rejected his laws.

What does God want from man? He simply wants a genuine relationship. That requires an acknowledgement that he is the Creator who designed the structure of life and then a commitment to live by a standard of conduct outlined in the Laws of God.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien