I am an unabashed lover of the book of Hebrews. It’s not that I don’t love the rest of God’s word, but Hebrews speaks to my soul in a unique way. Hebrews tells the story of Jesus to Christ-followers who live in a world that would shun them for their faith in one who died on a cross.

Although there is some debate among scholars, it would seem the audience is primarily Jewish. The use of Israelite history and symbolism suggests that the readers were individuals who would understand Jewish history. These Jewish readers were among the thousands of Jews who believed Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ, they had waited for through generations. The Hebrews author’s exhortations to his readers to continue to follow Jesus no matter what suggests there were forces in their lives that were trying to pull them back to traditional Jewish worship under Mosaic Law.

Imagine with me for a moment the social milieu the Hebrews readers may have lived in. They likely lived their lives in a primarily Jewish community. Household and holiness codes formed the tapestry of their daily living. Their moms, dads, spouses, bosses, children, and friends were Jewish. Every part of their lives revolved around daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly ceremonial events as they lived out the worship of their communities.

To follow Christ in such a context meant to live counter to an entire culture. Many communities simply could not (or would not) support such counter-cultural living. Indeed, ancient philosophers have noted that to follow Christ meant to be cast out by the very people they loved the most. Not only were they outcasts, there are indications in the book that the readers faced persecution, or at least knew of significant instances of persecution of Christ followers.

All this for a savior whom the Hebrews readers had never seen. Jesus’ ministry on earth had ended decades before the writing of Hebrews and many of Christianity’s earliest leaders had already died or been imprisoned. Not only had these Christians never seen Jesus for themselves, it is possible some of them did not even know anyone who had.

So for the first time we have a Christian audience with no direct connection to the savior himself. What they do have are Jewish communities that would urge them to turn their backs on a man whom they had never seen and call them back to the ways of Jewish life and worship.

Enter the book of Hebrews. All the reasons Jesus is the perfection of the Law: perfect High Priest, bearer of the perfect covenant, better than angels and even Moses. All the reasons Christ is the next phase in God’s redemption of his creation. All the people whose lives from as far back as the first children of creation testify to the God who sent his son, Jesus, to bring salvation for those who wait for him. All in an effort to say to the Jewish Christians torn between two apparently different worlds to persevere in the salvation they found in Christ Jesus.

Enter me, today, living in a world hostile to Christianity. I have never seen Jesus with my own eyes. I do not have an ancestors I can trace who were there at the cross. I know only what God’s stories tell, the testimony of faithful witnesses in my life, and the experiences that reveal Christ to my heart, soul, and mind.

As I cruised CNN.com this morning for updates on world events, I came across the following statement left as a comment on one of the stories I read:

Atheism isn’t a religion, it is just the lack of one. It is simply asking people to behave in a sane manner. Psychology defines religious belief as a form of schizophrenia, because you live in a world in your head that is disconnected from physical reality.

While I wholeheartedly disagree with the above statement, it does reveal a truth in which Christians in the modern Western world dwell everyday. A culture hostile to those who follow Christ. A culture which proclaims that belief in a Creator points to a psychological profile that requires the creation of a god to whom the insane can anchor their insanity.

I love the book of Hebrews because the social milieu in which the original readers lived mirrors my own in myriad ways. Hence, the message to “pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away,” resonates deeply in my soul. While the world insists I am merely insane, I return again to the written testimonies of the biblical authors. I heed the witness of those who lead and teach me. And I pay the most careful attention to ways in which God reveals himself daily.

And so the book of Hebrews speaks deeply into my soul.

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Suffering. Gotta hate it. No one wants to go through it. No one wants to watch others do it. And certainly none of us wants to cause it.

But we do want to explain it, yet rarely do our attempts to understand or explain suffering assist those who actually are suffering.

Most of us can easily see the theological errors committed by those who would claim natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes are God’s wrathful punishment of sin. We can see why Job’s suffering was neither his fault nor God’s plan for making him a better person in the future. Sadly, though, our means of understanding and explaining suffering are often no better. They are only more subtle.

For the past couple of decades I have been deeply honored by individuals and families who have allowed me to enter the sacred space of their suffering. Indeed, many times I have been called to bring the love of God to bear in the most painful of situations. The death of a child, the death of a mother, the sins of a husband.

Inside the sacred space of suffering I have heard many lovingly whispered explanations for and answers to suffering.

  • You child is in a better place, you should be happy for that.
  • God is making you a better person with all of this.
  • God will punish [insert name of the errant spouse].
  • Things could always be worse.

On the surface there is truth in all of these statements; it is when we peer below the surface that we can see the difficulties in them. Yes, heaven is a better place. But the grief of a parent screams, “I want my daughter here now! This world is not a better place without her!” Indeed, God will make us better people as he redeems our suffering through our growth in him. Does that mean I must welcome suffering with open arms? Of course vengeance is the Lord’s, but for a man or woman who loves the betraying spouse that is little comfort.

Things could always be worse. But that does not ease the real suffering of the present (though it is quite effective at inducing guilt for the sufferer).

In the sacred space of suffering God calls me to bear witness to pain. To acknowledge the unfairness and injustice of suffering. To be a quiet whisper of his love in the midst of it all, reminding that he is present and loving and always will be. He calls me to walk through it with his children, not to understand it or explain it away.

Into the sacred space of suffering God calls us all to enter softly.

Spring break is here!!! And it’s half over….

Despite my efforts to plan a week of nothin’-much, I am half-way through a week that keeps filling itself up with extraordinary but urgent things.

Not being a glass-half-empty kind of girl, I’ve laid out a plan for today that will involve significant nothing time. I have my favorite camping chair (it’s a full-length lounge chair that reclines and has a foot rest that raises up!), my Bible and current book, and 7 kids who want to go to the park down the street. In short order we will be heading out, balls and yard darts in hand, to run and jump and scream and play…and soak in the newly returning sun and in the ever-present Son.

It’s odd, sometimes, the places we must look to find space for soaking in God’s presence. At a park amidst 7 kids (five of whom are not my own, two of whom are mine and will be compensated in kind for coming and playing with all the little ones whose own parents are taking a much-needed break of their own today) may not sound like an ideal setting for a good soak, but God does indeed present himself in rather unusual places.

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12

Where do you find God’s gentle whispering?

 

 

 

My little friend is here today. She comes to play with me once or twice a week and goes by “B” when she’s here. 18 months going on 15 she has perfected the art of endearing the universe to her little ways.

Recently, B adopted Patches, the sweet, innocent teddy bear cast off but not discarded by my 11 year-old son. She bathes Patches, rocks him, kisses him, smiles down upon him and even reads him books.

As she carries Patches around, all wrapped up in a kitchen towel blanket, B often gets a pitiful little look on her face and cries a mournful little cry. She seems to be experiencing and expressing a deep sadness Patches feels. Unconcerned with his stains, rips, and missing pom from the tip of his hat, B loves Patches with such tender care that she can even feel his own sorrow. And the way she caresses his sweet, threaded smile as she cares for his every need makes me certain she is also tuned into her stuffed friend’s joy.

At the risk of sounding trite, I’d like to think this innocent little picture mirrors God’s care for all His children.

Over the past several years I have had the joy of teaching the book of Hebrews in a number of formats: retreats, adult classes, and most recently the 8th grade class where I worship. I love the book of Hebrews and I love 8th graders. Putting the two together made for a most amazing time.

8th graders are ready to dig deeper spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally; they are sophisticated enough to appreciate dry humor; and they have not reached the age at which being cool is the entire reason for being.

So as I wended my way through Hebrews with these freshly blooming souls, I appreciated the rich and powerful lessons it carries for those young in faith:

Do not turn back…

Pay attention to what you have heard…

Leave behind the easy stuff and move on to maturity…

Listen to your leaders…

Imitate their faith…

I am not one to offer up a list of tips and techniques to follow to a given end. Tips and techniques may get you started on the road to change, but they rarely get you where you really want to be, which in the case of believers is not conformed but transformed. And yet, the advice Hebrews presents for staying focused on Jesus, while rather tip-ish and technique-y on the surface, when understood in the fuller context of the letter is pretty solid advice for maintaining faith in this world.

And so as I brought our class to an end, I exhorted my young students to listen to God through His letter to the Hebrews as they launch into the work of bringing together the threads of all the Bible stories they knew and weaving them in their community of faith and in communion with God into a rich and vibrant tapestry of faith.