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Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’

mother sacrificeSacrifice is a mystery. One of the many throughout the scriptures and human history. I believe people are wired for life. Oh, I know there is still large numbers of suicides, people who chose otherwise. But still, for now, the norm is to live. Our bodies work hard to keep us alive, sometimes under terrific stress and pain. Stories of torture, starvation, and deprivation abound with the resilience of human courage and yes, even faith.

For this reason, in my view, any story of life sacrifice for the sake of another is hero time: people who leap into rushing waters to save someone or, in broader terms, our first responders and military warriors who go into battle for the sake of others, or parents who die while covering their children from harm, or teachers in the face of murderers shielding their students. Something within causes them to act.

Why do they do it? Love, honor, commitment, and perhaps destiny.

In my faith tradition, the story of Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) is a story of sacrifice for the same reasons, but for the sake of the many, not just the one. In the mystery of God’s story, humanity needed a reboot. And only by sacrifice would it work. This idea is foreign to our modern culture. And yet, for 2000 years, embraced and believed.

sacrifice2For Christ didn’t enter the earthly version of the Holy Place; he entered the Place Itself, and offered himself to God as the sacrifice for our sins. He doesn’t do this every year as the high priests did under the old plan with blood that was not their own; if that had been the case, he would have to sacrifice himself repeatedly throughout the course of history. But instead he sacrificed himself once and for all, summing up all the other sacrifices in this sacrifice of himself, the final solution of sin. [Hebrews 9:24-26, The Message]

None of us know what we will do in the face of emergency. Will we rise to the moment? Will I? I don’t know. But I am grateful for the One who did die and rise, bringing the world full circle. And I thank the individuals who model sacrifice as a way of life, for their actions inspire.

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I understand; I get it. Sharing is a sacrifice but I don’t like it. I think about the times I told my kids to share and I remember the look of incredulity. After all, sharing meant giving away what the one had in his hand.

Hebrews 13:16
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Oh sure, there are times that sharing might mean cutting something in half (or less), but more often than not, it’s giving it over, supposedly for a season, a short time, a shared time. But it never seems to work out that way from a kid’s perspective. And honestly, probably not from an adult perspective either when it comes to my lifestyle, my bank account, my comfort.

I’m afraid of it. OK. It also makes me mad sometimes.

I grew up with a strong work ethic and quite honestly, I can get somewhat scornful of people who don’t meet their obligations or hold up their end of the stick or break agreements or walk away from responsibilities. I can throw attitude with the best of them at deadbeat dads, plagiarizing students, and philandering husbands. I can get quite puffed up and think, “how dare they?”

After all, if I do my work, why shouldn’t they? If I hang in there, why shouldn’t she? If I earned the money, why must I share it with you? I suffered, so should you. I gave up what I wanted to do to make this life, so should you. After all, I walked to school twenty miles, in the snow, up hill: why shouldn’t my kids? They don’t appreciate hard work. They’re just spoiled.

On and on and on the mind drones. And why? Because God has asked me to share what I have with those who don’t. God even calls it a sacrifice (an offering, the surrender of something valuable for a higher cause). And there’s the point: the sacrifice is not about the worthiness of the other person — capable or not, low born or high, lazy or energetic — it’s about God.

“But, but, but . . . ,” my little self says inside, “they’ll take advantage of me!!!!”

God smiles (in that enigmatic spirit way) and seems to say, “That may be, that may very well be. But the laws of paradox and generosity, selflessness and love, pay back in ways untold. Trust me.”

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All executions were performed outside the city walls. Anything that was unclean or tainted was destroyed or thrown away there. Jesus broke up a lot of traditions, but the greatest one was starting something holy in an unholy place.

Hebrews 13:12-13
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

Two thousand years ago, the followers of Christ were considered unclean, much like lepers. They were law breakers and rule breakers. They were teaching others that the temple traditions were no longer necessary. They were breaking down societal structures. They all deserved to be cast away and thrown out from the protection of the city gates. This was the mindset of Paul of Tarsus and the crusade of his companions to obliterate the Christ-ians.

Now, some two thousand years, the tables have turned, and the very same believers in that former renegade, Jesus of Nazareth, are the ones who inhabit the “city” and have created their own order and culture of “righteousness.” It seems that anyone who might question or disagree with the current regime is cast outside the camp.

They are a new set of Pharisees who are putting people under microscopes before they are allowed inside.

But I believe Jesus is still outside the city. Jesus is still rubbing shoulders with the prostitutes and homeless, the poor and the outcasts, the disenfranchised and the orphans, the persecuted and the different, the prisoners and the ex-prisoners. The way of Jesus will always be the way of paradox. When we become to comfortable, we may have strayed onto the wide road [Matthew 7:13-14].

I am equally challenged here. I may go outside the “camp” for a visit, but every night I still run home to my comfortable bed and my air conditioning, my habits and my rituals.

I am yet afraid outside my “personal city” walls. I am afraid that I will be lost, that I will be hurt, that I will be shut out.

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I wonder if I would be a nicer person if I honestly considered that the person driving that car that just cut me off or the person who insisted on paying with coins in the checkout line or the huge person who just sat in front of me at the movies was an angel?

Hebrews 13:2
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

All right, I know that’s far-fetched, but isn’t it unfortunate in our current age that strangers equal danger? All children are told to avoid them; women fear them in parking lots while men suspect nefariousness or come-ons. Most strangers are wearing black hats.

And of course, I understand that “stranger danger” is very real, but have we overdone it? Have we extended this assumption to regular people who might be visiting from out of town or drop by our church one Sunday or just want to help with directions–have we demonized them all?

I don’t know the answer.

We have a family friend who is very quick to speak to strangers. He usually feels led of God and because of that, he has no fear. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and something terrible to happen, bu nothing has endangered him in the last ten or twenty years (both in the U.S. and abroad). On his way to visit us (driving up from Georgia with another friend), they picked up a hitchhiker (as is his custom). They talked at length and as he got closer to our home, he telephoned ahead and said we would have an extra guest.

When I found out it was a young man, generally high on something and recently out of jail, my heart skipped a beat. All I could envision was a complete takeover at knife point. My fears were over the top, but for safety’s sake, I did insist that they all crash in our basement guest room.

The boy was not an angel but he was in need and in the end, the two friends took him all the way to New York and got him connected with Dave Wilkerson’s ministry.

I am embarrassed that I was so afraid. I will never be like my global traveling missionary, but I do think I could be generous with my eyes, my voice, and my mind. I could be more interested in the stranger. I could be kind. I could be willing to help.

Something to think about.

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Kingdom Within by Raymond Andrews

Jesus speaks innumerable times about the kingdom of God, what it’s like, where it is, and what it means to His followers. But it is in Hebrews where we are reminded that this is an unshakeable (indestructible) kingdom: eternal and purified by fire (and blood).

Hebrews 12:28-29
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Over the past few years, as I have methodically read through the New Testament and looked for personal applications, I have become more and more secure in my belief that this kingdom of God is not of the 3-D world we can see and touch but it is in that “other” reality – that place within, that place outside our senses, that place of Holy Spirit, that place that defies logic and that place which was opened to humankind through the mediation of the Christ/Messiah whose act of sacrifice tore the veil asunder [Matthew 27:51].

I try to imagine the power and glory that was on Mount Sinai, where the Israelites fled from Egypt and stood to hear from their God, what they should do next. And from there, they wandered the desert, carrying the “glory of God” with them in the Ark of the Covenant. And finally, with King David and his son, Solomon, the great temple was built in Jerusalem and the ark was given a final resting place in the Holy of Holies [II Chronicles 7:1], where only the high priest could enter once a year. This is all symbolic and intentional.

Now, the Messiah comes, the veil is torn, the ark is opened and all of this glory is placed within the kingdom and we are invited to participate in it through the Christ.

Is this not worthy of awe and reverence?

Despite all the horrendous things the Church may have done throughout the centuries, the cathedrals they built to immortalize our King make sense. I know they were not built in a righteous way, the poor were taxed and unholy deals were made with the rich, but there is a breath of God that remains in these places even today.

Whenever I visit a city that has a cathedral, I want to go. I want to walk through and sit and be silent there. I am awed in these places.

Of course, there are nature locations that give the same feeling: water falls, canyons, hot springs, lakes, oceans, forests, mountains… just to name a few.

As much as I enjoy contemporary Christian worship, there is a part of me that misses the wonder, the intense quiet, and the Holy Presence that permeates high church worship.

If I could describe that kingdom within me (which is impossible) but perhaps, just a color, a shape, a smell, a sound: what would it be? I don’t know. I just don’t really know.

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I have already written about seeing the invisible as well as the Invisible God. Hebrews 12 prescribes another piece of the process: Holiness.

Hebrews 12:14
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

I think it’s a little like being color blind. The closer I come to holiness, the more expansive my color wheel, my prism. When my eyes are clouded by 3-D things, problem mentality, and “what about me?” syndrome, I’m putting myself into a black and white world.

The movie Pleasantville, or even the Wizard of Oz, dramatically captured this difference. Colors look more vivid when they are juxtaposed against shades of gray. Don’t get me wrong, artistically, I love black and white, whether its movies or photographs, but I am talking about a different kind of non-color here. I’m referring to a non-holy world that is flat with unrelenting sameness.

To see God through the lens of holiness, we are promised the universe and that is hinted at through the glory. In American Sign Language, the gesture for holiness is a large arch over the head with the fingers fluttering.

But of course, the real challenge is entering the holy place. I’d say there is a type of nakedness this is a prerequisite for entry, not just the shedding of our outer layer of clothing, but also the skin of expectations and labels and the outer muscles of self-determination. We started walking away from the holy place the first time we said, “No, I want to do it myself.”

I cannot touch the holy because it’s not here in this world.

Holiness is wholeness (completeness, synchronization, transparency); it’s the paradox of loving those who should not be loved, living from inside out, choosing peace over violence, forgiving the unforgivable, mirroring Jesus, and echoing the Holy Spirit.

Wholeness is also brokenness. What is broken? the hard heart, the frozen spirit, the rigid memory, the fear of death.

Holy seeing is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage and imagination to see what we do not recognize, to see and not identify, to see and embrace.

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Grace is everything. If I could only grasp the full power of grace every day, nothing could cause lasting harm. Grace diffuses anger, despair, disappointments and resentments which all fuel bitterness. And bitterness hurts everyone.

Hebrews 12:15
Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God’s grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it.
[Amplified]

For some years I worked with the Elijah House ministries; I read many of the John and Paula Sandford books, I participated in the Basic School which taught the essentials of prayer for healing and how to recognize and address bitter root judgments. I met with my own counselor for several years.

So many early bitter roots are like persistent weeds in the garden that grow very deeply in the soil. They cannot be merely cut at ground level, they must be pulled out, otherwise, they will tend to grow back, sometimes larger, stronger, and even deeper than before.

Hurtful instances in our past act in the same way and can derail a life. My own life was on a treadmill of resentments about situations that were mostly outside my direct control: my father’s alcoholism and death when I was a child, my mother’s mental illness, our relative poverty, my brilliant brother, just to name a few. I had an internal tirade always playing in my head: why these parents, why this family, why this city, why this school, why this husband, and why this body. And the follow up to “why” became “if only” — if only I had more money, if only I had a different family, etc. The litany was endless. And each verse dug my roots in deeper and deeper.

When I began the healing process of allowing the Spirit to weed my garden heart, I thought I would explode into a million pieces. I had held on to those issues for so long that I didn’t know who I would be without them.

Although I was able to release many of my old hurts and habits, I recognize now that a life picks up other hurts along the way. Not all bitter roots come from childhood or even teen years, they can find yummy soil ten years ago or five or even yesterday. How deeply they are planted and how much I water my bitter roots will determine how easily they can be removed.

This is where grace comes in, through the love and power of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Messiah, and the intention of God to make all things well.

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