Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’

I am not very good at waiting for the fruit of anything. I am a product of my culture and generation. I want it now. But faith in the good ending of a situation is the cornerstone of hope and takes time.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

It takes practice to believe in the good end despite the circumstances. It also takes experience. The more personal examples I have of God’s reliability, the easier it is to trust God the next time.

And, apparently, each instance of my faith and hope in God, lays a path for others to follow. That is a by-product of my journey, my willingness to hold my hand to the plow.

I live in northern Maryland near the Pennsylvania line and a few times a year, we take a trip up into the Lancaster area where many Amish communities have evolved. I really enjoy watching the spring planting season as the men work the ground with teams of horses or mules and plows. It’s clearly hard work but it is also a kind of dance. Like any farmer, these men are trusting that their labor will bear a plentiful harvest. Outside forces can impact their efforts, but they still carry on, believing that all will be well.

A God follower is similar to these farmers, willing to cultivate the land of human, believing the ground can be tamed, seeds can grow and new life can flourish.

But, like the farmer, this process is long and painstaking. I cannot rush through it. Just as plants grow on their own timetable, so do souls.

In the Amplified translation of this verse, righteousness is expanded to mean “conformity to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action, resulting in right living and right standing with God.” This is true human and this is the harvest we are intended to pursue here on Earth. And with this relationship comes peace within.

This is the promise, the ultimate fruit of discipline.

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Nope. Not interested in enduring hardship. Sorry. Feels too much like self-flagellation. Suffer! Suffer! It’s good for you! I don’t want it. But doesn’t hardship come with life as much as joy? It is the human story.

Hebrews 12:7
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Perhaps it’s the coupling of the word “discipline” with hardship that sticks in my craw. I want to roll my eyes and say, “don’t do me any favors.”

I suppose, then, whether I like it or not, I need to examine my knee jerk reaction to discipline. I always think of discipline in terms of mistakes and wrongdoing. I get disciplined because I screwed up. Yuck.

But there is an aspect of discipline that I rarely consider and that’s regimen or training. My son recently finished Navy boot camp and he pretty much hated it. The constant demand for detail, for accuracy, for precision, and of course, long hours and hard work, were more than he thought he could handle. But he made it. He completed the challenge and once it was done, he knew he was better for it. It was rigorous and unpleasant at times, but he learned many lessons from the process.

There is a type of training that comes with becoming truly human. Not the human that is self-absorbed and striving for personal achievement and power, but the human who discovers the paradox of living like Christ. That human is different. And those hardships have to do with letting go.

These are the true hardships and once those are endured, the other perceived hardships like sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, loss of jobs, hunger, whatever . . . they are more easily lived through.

How can I keep this in my mind today? Discipline.

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Paradox or miracle? How can anyone see the invisible? I looked it up: not perceptible by the eye. But of course, we’re not talking about the eyes, are we? It’s about “seeing” differently — probably the key to everything.

Hebrews 11:27
By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

This kind of seeing is somewhere between the understanding that comes with “oh, I see!” to envisioning what is unknown. It takes both imagination and understanding to embrace the faith of a true Messiah, to relate with God, to engage outside the 3-D matrix in which we tend to live mindlessly.

In Hebrews 11, the author is reviewing a long litany of men (mostly) and women who stood out in history as people of faith. A short “typifying” moment or two is written about each one. For Moses, it meant going upstream (like most people of faith), but the costs were huge. Think about it: Moses lived in the household of one of the most powerful men of the known world. And long before Moses’s “burning bush” epiphany, he walked away from Pharaoh’s house to follow what he saw in the Invisible.

I wouldn’t say he used the best way of “walking away.” He operated as so many young people do when they are caught by the wonder of a sovereign God. They are bulls in a china shop, causing residual damage as they plow through their world to get through the door. For Moses, it was killing a man; for a friend of mine, it was becoming a missionary, determined to live by faith financially, along with a wife and three young children who were not in step with him: the family broke.

To see, feel, hear, smell or taste the invisible is mind-altering. I have had such glimpses, only a few, and they were exhilarating. It was easier when I was younger. But now, no matter how close I get to the invisible, my 3-D responsibilities pull me back. My feet are quite entrenched in the pragmatic. I am like an amusement ride that swings back and forth, my equilibrium challenged continually.

I believe we are called to engage in a harmony of both of these worlds: the visible and the invisible. Like the energy that flows within the body, there is energy that flows between us and others, us and things, us and nature. This is Holy Spirit teaching working within but also without.

Balance me out today Lord. Keep me mindful of your presence. Open my eyes to see the invisible.

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For many believers, the “holy city” or “New Jerusalem” represent either some aspect of heaven or a literal reconstruction of the earthly Jerusalem. In any case, this “City-State” is entwined with the “promise” of Godly reconciliation. But do I care?

Hebrews 11:13c, 16
And they [people of faith] admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . . they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

There are several references in the New Testament about the City of God and interestingly enough, they begin here, in Hebrews. I believe it’s importance comes from the crucial parts that Jerusalem and the Temple played in the history of Israel and the worship of YHWH, the one true God. For the Israelite, the City was always holy and revered, so much so that even Jesus is recorded as weeping over the city [Luke 19:41-42].

Many cities seem to have personalities and more often than not, they are usually referenced as female: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans. They have their individuality and their lovers for many, many people love the cities in which they live and they truly grieve at her injuries or misfortunes. But are any of them holy? Do any, particularly here in the U.S., have a mystical history or aura? Would we ever envision a heavenly version of any of our cities?

The derivation of the word city seems to come from the Latin, civitas or civitatem, which could be loosely translated as community of citizens. It would make more sense then, to imagine the “Holy City” — that long awaited one, that New Jerusalem — not so much as a place, but a gathering . . . of people, of souls, of energy, of life. In Bible times and even long after that, most cities or castles also had a tower of safety, or keep deep within for its people, or its royalty, to seek asylum. In the first Jerusalem, this place of safety was the Temple (and deeper still, behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies) because of the presence of God. The New Jerusalem, then, this aggregate faithful could also have God in its midst.

This might be what I really care about then: not some enormous “city” coming down out of the sky like an alien ship, blinking with lights and gold, but the ultimate union of my spirit with the Holy Spirit and then, joining with all the other “faithful.”

When we are walking, talking, living in tandem with the Holy Spirit, “light” radiates and others are drawn to it like moths to a living flame. We are the Holy City, the church, the civitatem of Christ.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” [Philippians 3:20-21]

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Most of Hebrews 11 is a cursory overview of some of the great men and women of faith who acted with determination and courage. Their faith was their talisman for relationship with God. And for me?

Hebrews 11:4, 5a, 6a
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. . . . By faith Enoch . . . And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists. . .

Abel’s stories is one of the first. It’s so interesting that Adam and Eve are bypassed here, more than likely because their faith was wanting. Out of their union, two men were born whose stories have survived through the ages. One son was driven by a pure motive of faith in God and possibly driven by a desire to return their lives to the original purpose and intent of “Eden.” The other son, Cain, seemed to live on the other side of that coin: being more self-sufficient and clearly, my the story’s end, self-absorbed because he couldn’t bear to have his brother’s offering accepted while his was not. I have always believed that motive drove their differences.

In the second story of this chapter, we are given only the second reference to Enoch (now, I am not speaking of the controversial Book of Enoch – which I would like to read one day soon), first in Genesis 5:24 and then again, here in Hebrews 11. And although much is not said of Enoch, there seems to have been knowledge of this one as a prophet, some seven generations before Abraham. The first key for me, based solely on these brief references, is trust. Enoch believed and trusted that God was God and, as a result, anything was possible. Apparently, he transcended the norm, by disappearing without a trace. Although modern times may find this easily explained, there was no need back then for the FBI, pictures on milk cartons, or APB’s. People knew each other and their whereabouts. It was still a small world. His disappearance was supernatural and it occurred out of his faith.

So, what do these stories tell me today? Faith begins out of a decision to believe in the face of all circumstances. Faith begins each day. Faith is rewarded in order to build more faith. Faith is available.

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Julian of Norwich

I had a personal epiphany this evening about Julian of Norwich’s famous line, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

It’s faith, simple faith, as written here in Hebrews 11, the famous “faith” chapter. But before the long list of examples begin, there is the basic definition of faith as this confidence in what we hope for coming to pass, no matter what or how things may appear now.

It’s a trajectory that I can begin each morning, before anything has happened in my day, I can speak this Norwich phrase with a deep sense of understanding that I do have this faith, I can have it today, I can enter my day with confidence . . . if I choose.

It’s when I head off the path of faith/wellness, that other prayers are needed. When I stumble be cause the way is hard, I can ask for help and when I err and hurt others because I’m trying to “make things well” on my own, I can ask forgiveness. When my confidence diminishes throughout a day, I can ask for assurance. When I am afraid of what is in my path, I can ask for revelation and wisdom. When I am angry or resentful about my relationships or my situation, I can ask for renewal and Spirit companionship.

This way of faith, this way of confidence in what I hope and believe in, the ever present God who promises that all things in my life will come out well in the end, this is “the” Way.

And for this reason, He can say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” [Revelation 22:13] and I can say, I believe.

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“Confiscation of property” goes back a long, long time in the guise of political necessity or religious cleansing. Could I let go of my stuff willingly in the face of injustice?

Hebrews 10:34
You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

As a first generation American, stories abounded at the dinner table about the terrible losses our family and their friends suffered at the hands of both the Nazis and Communists during WWII.

When I met my half-sister for the first time in Latvia, 1997, she regaled me with stories about “our” father in his youth and then the terrible time of flight from oncoming forces, first from the West and then from the East. Karlis, in fear of conscription, fled his farmland and hoped his wife and child would be safe enough. Instead, the communists came through and took the land, giving the women only a few days to gather what they could carry and flee to the city of Riga. Once there, they were never united with my father again, who was caught by the Germans and forced into service as a guard.

They lost everything. This is just one family’s story, but of course, just a quick look at a newspaper shows entire villages fleeing for their lives, bundles piled upon their heads. They take what they can carry and no more.

What would I take? What is the most valuable? Would I lug out my laptop or my hard drive? Albums of pictures? My bible? Which clothes? How much can I really carry? Would I get the cat carriers, the dog leashes, the plant I’ve nurtured over 30 years of marriage?

No. Not really. These are the things of the “matrix.” No matter how tender I may feel toward them all, there is really just life itself and faith in the eternal Spirit.

One of my favorite Ann Tyler books is Ladder of Years: the main character walks away from her family and leaves everything, including them, during a beach vacation. Naturally, she causes her family some chaos and pain and concern, but for me, the tantalizing part is her slow discovery of self without the stuff that had come to rule her identity. She walked until she couldn’t walk anymore. She hitched a ride, she ended up in a boarding house room and there she stayed for a long time. She had nothing. And yet, she had everything she needed to live on.

Sometimes it’s a storm, a Tsunami, a tornado, that takes away our possessions. And there is no way to minimize the dreadful sense of loss. And yet, if life remains, then spirit remains, and anything is possible next.

Will that day of challenge come into my life still? Could be. Yes. Could be.

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