Guatemala is a beautiful land with beautiful people. It was a great joy to spend 11 days there two weeks ago, working with our mission partner, Impact Ministries.
The common people of Guatemala largely believe in and follow the practices of the ancient Mayan religion that is embedded in the culture. Those cultural beliefs include the the belief that rituals performed in high places or in low places have special power.
There is a sinkhole outside of Tactic, Guatemala, (where Impact Ministries is headquartered) where people go 150 feet down into the earth to perform such rituals. Another place where many people petition the Mayan gods is at Xixim (pronounced She-sheem). Xixim is the name of a Roman Catholic church perched high, overlooking Tactic.
The photo above was taken by me on our recent trip to Guatemala. The man in the red bandana is a witch doctor who had been hired by the others in the photo to lead them in religious rituals at the high place. This location is right outside the front entrance (and on the property of) the Xixim church. Inside the church, at the main altar, is a large crucifix with a dark skinned figure hanging on the cross. Inscriptions indicate that figure is not Jesus, but Xixim, the corn god of the Mayans. Sadly, in Guatemala the Catholic Church has intermixed Mayan religion with Catholicism, and many people are confused about the truth of the Gospel.
In Scripture, one of the struggles of the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah was worship at the high places. Even the strongest, most Godly kings of Judah who called the people away from the worship of Asherah, Baal and Molech failed to remove the high places. People worshipped there. They sacrificed there. The only problem was they had a Temple, built by Solomon, for the worship of the one, true God. Worship at the high places may have been convenient, but that worship was too easily tainted by idolatry.
The witness of the evangelical church in Guatemala is that there is only one, true God, and He offers forgiveness and life to those who receive and follow His Son, Jesus Christ. People are finding hope as they turn from idolatry to Jesus. People are being transformed by the Gospel. And Dayton UMC is proud to partner with Impact Ministries in the work they are doing in Guatemala.
All of this can tempt us to spiritual pride. After all, we believe the true Gospel. We follow Jesus in spirit and in truth. We do not have high places in Dayton, Indiana. Or do we?
What if the high places where we mix faith in Jesus with idolatry are not physical high places but spiritual ones? What if the idols we are tempted to worship are not a corn god but the gods of comfort and wealth and promiscuity and power? Could it be we tolerate the mixture of a little self-help theology and prosperity gospel with the true Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus?
One does not have to have an altar in the back yard with little statues of false gods to fall into idolatry. Anything we place above God is an idol in our lives. Anything we trust in alongside Jesus is idolatry. And idolatry is sin, pure and simple.
A mission trip to another country opens one's eyes to many things. It's easy to go to Guatemala and say, "Ain't it awful how those confused Guatemalans mix idolatry with Christianity." And then the Holy Spirit begins to examine our own hearts to root out the idolatry we too often tolerate in our own lives. This rooting out of sin from our hearts is the very process of sanctification - of making us more holy and more like Jesus. I do not want to resist the Holy Spirit in this work, I want to welcome Him.
So my prayer today is, "Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to search my heart and tear down the high places where I trust in myself, in the things of the world, or in anything else but You. And please, Lord, continue working in Guatemala to lead people out of darkness and into the light of Christ."