Reading Hebrews: Study Jesus, Grow Up & Run

I read the book of Hebrews through this morning in THE MESSAGE, a translation by the legendary and wise, brilliant pastor and author Eugene Peterson.  All these thoughts come directly from that reading.  When I used Peterson’s words, I tried to give “credit” but this is completely my interpretation of his translation.  Don’t blame him for my ignorance or lack of understanding.  This is written to myself but you can listen in. 

The book of Hebrews likens life to a race.  I’m not that competent at running.  Last summer, I started running trying the Couch Potato to 5k program.  At first I barely stumbled around the block, untrained and unprepared. But it didn’t take long before I was running three miles. Today, after static winter, I’d have to start all over again. I would have to start from the beginning and mature into a runner, again.

Like those listed in the book of Hebrews, our faith Story, should point people toward their true home. We can please God through our Story by believing that God exists and that he cares enough to respond when we cry out to him.

Be confident that you are presentable inside and out.”

Even with wickedness in our back story, in the book of Hebrews we learn that in the final review this is the point—that we are unworthy and that through the actions of Jesus, we become presentable again.

How are we to live now, today?

The Message translates that we are to “make our way as best we can on the cruel edges of the world.”  That’s dramatic, but I can relate.  Life has felt more than a little cruel of late.

Hebrews holds a roster of pioneers of faith, people like my father, imperfect – whose lives were unfinished and incomplete when they died, even if they were exemplary; or whether they tripped up over and over, even if they had to learn how to run many times throughout their lives. They are all at the last finish line, shouting and cheering us on.

Hebrews says their lives combined with ours becomes The Story—a completed whole.

So, even when you feel inadequate, knowing that you’re broken, feeling you’re too lame to run, you are commanded TO RUN!

But how are we to carry out this impossible feat? 

Key your eyes on Jesus. Know Jesus. Study Jesus.

When you feel most down trodden and unable to run, go back to the basics to who he was and is, how he behaved, how he treated people, how he fashioned his time and priorities and days (and nights). Study him.

And, if you begin to feel life is unfair, that yours in particular is full of suffering and pain. Consider these things to be ways for God to love you.  We are disciplined and corrected by love.

This is growing up spiritually.

Know that your pain is God’s training ground!  Life isn’t hard because you’re bad, or undeserving of good things, or even unrepentant.  No, life hurts because God the father LOVES YOU!  It’s the University of Spiritual Development.

And so, stop resisting. Stop complaining. Wipe your tears. Wake up to God’s love!  These hard moments, this unimaginable pain in your life or those you love, is making you not breaking.

Hebrews is a heavenly warning.  “God himself is fire!” He’s burning, aware of…our immaturity, our gracelessness, our negativity, our tearing one another down.

He’s looking at you and me – challenging us to care for one another.

It is simple things.

  • “Be ready with a meal or a bed when needed.  Why some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it.
  • Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them.
  • Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them happened to you.
  • Guard your marriage, your relationships.
  • Don’t be obsessed with getting material things.
  • Watch how your pastors live and let their lives instruct you.
  • Share what you have with others.  Worship God with your generosity and love.
  • And pray that God, who put all this together, who makes all things whole, who gave us Jesus, may he train you, put you together—providing you with everything you need—in Jesus.”

Sometimes, truth is so simple that we ignore it thinking that can’t be all.  That can’t be it.  It’s not spiritual enough.  It’s not complicated enough.

But the book of Hebrews makes it pretty clear.  We are to love one another in the daily race of life, look to Jesus as our example for how to live, trust him, be trained by him … Grow up.

And run.

MHH

{What it means to FEAR HIM}

Fear has always chased me and won.   It clamors at me through perfectionism and anxiety to the point that my reflex response to life is to fear it.   I’m certain it is the crux of my depression. Even so, it was some kind of miraculous act of God that brought me Tom to share my life.  For in my human response I would never, not in a million years, have been bold enough to commit to my frail heart to love or marriage. God intended this and somehow intervened in my heart. If it were up to me I would still, today be very alone.

Each intake of breath and out is accompanied by anxious thoughts.  I have to daily surrender it to God. Even today, it chases me as I run for exercise trying to get this sorry 45 year old body in shape.  Each step chased my anxiety. 

I am one who craves routine — what can be expected, anticipated and known. I find spontaneity amusing, but not quite enjoyable.  My father went on uncontrollable, inexplicable rages.  It had no logical connection to our day-to-day life as far as I could ascertain.  He was often exploding or riding one until she gave up on whatever it was that she wanted.

The result is that she lets go of her own passions, and purpose and understanding of the world and her life.—her own call and purpose, her own dreams,

That was my mother I watched as her imaginings were crushed. Her life turned into a frightening nightmare. And in small ways that story became my own legacy.

I felt crushed like a bug, only to come back to life over and over again in the same home, with the same father.  Stuck in a hell of his making, afraid of living, afraid of people, afraid of risk, afraid of my own thoughts and ideas.  Afraid to make a life of my own.

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.” — Psalm 34:7

The command to FEAR HIM strikes something deep in me, the humming chord that is more than a little bit beautiful, and yet  there is a lot that I don’t understand about it. This kind of fear is confusing to me.  Knowing that  God deserves my fear, but it is not because he intends

to crush me

or to humiliate me

or destroy my soul. 

He intends me to fear him in order to be set free! {This requires trust.}

I once told an erratic and fickle boyfriend “Treat me well, or treat me poorly I don’t care. Just be steady! My father is never consistent or predictable.”  I just couldn’t stand the bitter torture of his inconsistency.

And so, I am setting out on a journey to understand my own fears and more importantly to discover THIS GOD WHO PROMISES so much to those who “fear him.”

If there is anything that you know, that you have learned ,of this HOLY FEAR, I would love to hear from you—books, Bible study resources, scriptures, poetry, preacher’s sermons or personal experience.

What does it mean to FEAR God?

MELODY

I am honored to have some of my poems included with a collection of essays in the book Not Afraid which is scheduled to come out in August, 2012.

Why “For Women” is not “For Me”

Matthew 25 (1) of The Holy Bible, King James v...
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Why I don’t like “women’s” ministry, seminars & conferences specifically for women, or special Bibles and studies written only for women.

It  is not that I’m against women (or men) gathering together as a tribe, but I have other, deeper concerns.

  • First of all, fundamentally it comes out of this notion that men and women are so different that you must make categories of resources just for each group.   We certainly have our differences, but that sort of thinking divides us.  It’s unproductive. It hurts us more than helps as we try to work out our faith with one another.
  • Secondly, I don’t like them because I don’t think ideas in scripture are necessarily “for women” or “for men.”
  • Thirdly, and possibly most important to me, because scripture was translated by men, and it was done a long time ago, by committees, and there were no women involved, therefore I think that the language just might possibly be patriarchal and misleading.

Before you burn me at the stake, look at Proverbs 31:10 to see what I mean.  It is the classic verses of a virtuous feminine woman.  Yes, it is a description of a woman though I never saw until I looked at the original meaning, that it is a description of a spiritually powerful and strong woman!

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (a group I’ll say up front I don’t totally agree with) describes a “worthy woman” fairly well as “virtuous, trustworthy, energetic, physically fit, economical, unselfish, honorable, lovable, prepared, prudent, and God-fearing.”  That’s all good.

Look at the word virtuous in 31:10 “Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies?” (KJV)

The Hebrew word chayil is translated as virtuous or excellent, strength and influence.; a force, an army, able activity in might and power, valiant, full of valor and virtue, and worthy in war.

I’m not making that up.  It’s there for anyone to know – to learn.  But don’t you think it’s interesting that no one talks about a virtuous woman like that?

I know I have never heard a woman at church described as a warrior — not in all my life and that ‘s a long time of church attending among several denominations.  And I had to find it for myself.

Original Word: חָ֫יִל
Transliteration: chayil Phonetic Spelling: (khah’-yil)
Short Definition: army
Definition: strength, efficiency, wealth, army
NASB Word Usage: able (5), armies (3), army (82), army* (1), capability (1), capable (3), elite army (1), excellence (1), excellent (2), forces (12), full (1), goods (1), great (1), might (1), mighty (1), nobly (1), power (2), retinue (2), riches (9), strength (10), strong (2), substance (1), troops (2), valiant (41), valiant* (4), valiantly (6), valor (18), very powerful (1), warriors (1), wealth (25), wealthy (1), worthy (1).

A Proverbs 31 Woman:

  • She is a mighty woman of God.
  • She is a woman of strength and influence.
  • She is a woman of force who is able and effective in spiritual warfare, she is full of valor (acts of bravery) and virtue.

Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies.” (KJV)

The Hebrew word for find transliterated matsa, not only means find or acquire‚  but also has the meaning of  to come forth, to appear or exist.

Imagine that.

Perhaps these verses are saying:

God is calling mighty and courageous women to come forth, spiritual warriors and champions, who at His command will be a great spiritual force in Jesus name.

Would people be so uncomfortable with this if you inserted “God is calling mighty and courageous MEN, spiritual warriors, champions, forceful and mighty, be a great spiritual force?

So, if as I believe God communicates to us all — straight up, irregardless of our gender — why are we always separating ourselves as women? It just makes me uncomfortable.  I think we each benefit as we mix the generations, genders, hipsters and bikers and soccer moms and dads, with boomers, silent gen, under 18 kids, teens or whatever.  Single and married, higher education or not, race or ethnicity.  The church is the worst at coming across those cultural barriers to worship together.  But we are strengthened as people and as a community when we do.  Why do we do that?  Especially in the church?  We lose out.  There is so much that we don’t learn.  I love that my life is incredibly diverse and I’ll do everything I can to keep it that way.

Tribes. On the other hand, we are all in a tribe, or two or three.  We feel connection and solidarity, even strength when we connect from time to time to our tribe.  So, I suppose one must find a balance. One of my husband Tom’s Tribes is Musical Geeks and they cross believers and not, women or men, young or old, it matters not at all.  They just get together to “geek out” about all sorts of really boring musical minutia.  Not my tribe.  Not my need.  But man does he need and love to be with those folk!

So finding the balance is key.

But, I detest groups “for women.”  Bible studies and events just for women.  I guess they always will represent to me that women are not yet equal with men in the body of Christ. It’s not an obvious equation, but still that math goes there in my mind and heart.

Sure I’m not your typical evangelical Christian woman.   I regularly question every idea in theology.  I don’t believe “male headship.”  I don’t believe the idea that God’s divine order of things is for me to follow a man.  I do believe in order.  I do believe in submitting to one another mutually.  But right now it feels like there are a million obstacles to women experiencing  true equity within the Christian evangelical church.

There’s no way that your typical male is ready for the woman spiritual warrior who is mighty in strength and influence.  Uh uh.  They’re squirming now in discomfort and ready to thump me over the head with their  B I B L E.  Oh well.

I can read it for myself.  I translated it.  I know it is different from some things being taught.

I believe that men and women when utilizing their skills and abilities and spiritual gifts — all given to us by a real and loving God by the way, who chose those skills, abilities and spiritual gifts for usthat creator God is the one that called us. If He made me this way, I should be serving, using my gifts that He gave me.

Because sitting back, watching many capable men do many things in the church is wrong.  And only leading in the midst of women is also wrong.

It gets complicated when you don’t know, when you haven’t had your abilities affirmed in the church.  But some day, women will come to know themselves capable of being that woman described in Proverbs 31.

God is calling mighty and courageous women to come forth, spiritual warriors and champions, who at His command will be a great spiritual force in Jesus name.

Amen.


——————————

Some things I am reading my way through:

Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Editors.  “… the writers focus on “portions . . . that deal explicitly with female characters and symbols . . . and sections that bear upon the condition of women generally.” Although the contributors share this goal, they take different paths. In addition to the commentary itself, there are helpful essays on feminist hermeneutics and daily life in biblical times. This commentary will raise eyebrows, and it will raise consciousness as well. It will not be well received in all quarters, but it is essential for those who are seriously interested in biblical and feminist studies. Recommended for seminary, university, and public libraries.”  – Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.

“No one will go away from the volume with her or his old assumptions about biblical texts intact…The challenge and pleasure of this work is its tendency to upset expectations about familiar books”. Theology Today

Christians for Biblical Equality

Equality Central

Gifted to Lead: The ARt of Leading as a Woman in the Church by Nancy Beach, Willow Creek Church.

“No mistake was made in heaven when God gave you the gift of leadership or teaching. Every gift you have came from the hand of a loving Father who crafted you.”— Nancy Beach

Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family by Gilbert Bilezikian. A first-rate biblical and theological study that affirms full equality of the sexes in church and family.

How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership. Compelling stories from Prominent Evangelicals including Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Tony Campolo, Bill and Lynn Hybels, I. Howard Marshall, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Pantinga.

[I find this website Biblos to be a great resource in my Bible study.  It has many commentaries, original translation, many versions of text, and concordance.  SO many things that I’ve never used including  dictionary, atlas, even bible studies.]

Something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time …

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

— Henry David Thoreau

For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.

Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  It’s no secret that we must make pretty good money, since I don’t have to work but we’re not even very careful with our money.  We know we are lucky to have a such a good income and we have our retirement funds, and because of his business we’re insured up to our eye balls.   But at the same time have no short-term savings and live month-to-month.  And we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble a few times wanting a vacation or bedroom furniture or to build out a studio and putting it on credit because we don’t save for those eventualities.

I shop compulsively — like I do so many things — with more than twenty years of bad spending choices and not living deliberately.  I confess to my own addictive spending habits which have taken years to reform and I must say I am not fully there.  It has been an area where I have had a two-fisted grip on that “need” to have things and this is something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time.

In 2008 we decided enough was enough and with the help of a family member stopped spending on credit (for good we hope) by getting a personal loan to end the endless high interest chase of debt.  And we are paying that off at low-interest over several years.   So far, as it comes to credit, we are reformed.

But we are continuously asking how do we live more deliberately?

We have begun to ask each other hard questions about cultural expectations, the influence of media on our world view and our children’s minds and souls, asking what is “life-giving, important, and meaningful?” and how should that change the way we spend our money.  A recent series at church on Generosity (aptly titled Let’s Get Fiscal) has also had interesting timing  for us.  And right in the midst of this sermon series and our personal discussion and prayer about fiscal irresponsibility and generosity we had someone in our life that really needs our financial help.   We have to face that we don’t have money on hand to help.  Because of our financial irresponsibility we cannot help someone that we love and whom we want to help.  That hurts and convicts and fits right in to what God’s doing. The timing is striking and as we have sought to listen to God, because he is clearly speaking to us.  The sermon series told us startlingly that 3.6 billion people in the world live on $2 or less a day. (Passing the Plate, by Smith, Emerson and Snell)  And I heard recently on NPR that more than half of the Egyptians now protesting for a better life live on $2 a day.

I am the “Rich Man.”

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’e Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hardf to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”  The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”  Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.g” (Mark 10, New Living Translation)

Now more than ever, we are thinking about living intentionally and thinking it through carefully.  What we do and how we do it impacts, or should, how we spend, how generous we are, how we are able to make choices deliberately and carefully.  A recently blog entry by Rachel Held Evans talked about our purpose and essential living in this way:

“It seems to me that there are all of these voices telling me that I need certain things—privacy, boundaries, a 3-bedroom house, a two-car garage, clean neighbors, cool friends, fashionable clothes, TV, junk food, exercise equipment, a plan, a religion, a career, certainty, approval, stacks and stacks of books, and lotion that gives my skin a healthy-looking glow.  Rarely do I stop, take stock of how I spend my money and my time, and ask myself—Do I really need this? Is this really essential? What is its purpose?

Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, put this way:

The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba vacuüm cleaner, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life. 

Why do I write about this?  I believe it is a defining sin — conspicuous consumption and the love of money.  It is a lack of contentment — my pastor calls it a “cancer of discontentment.” He also reminded us of the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30.  It says:  

Surely I am more stupid than any man,  And I do not have the understanding of a man.  Neither have I learned wisdom,  Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.   Who has ascended into heaven and descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s name?  Surely you know!  Every word of God is tested;  He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Do not add to His words  Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.

Two things I asked of You,  Do not refuse me before I die:  Keep deception and lies far from me,  Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,  That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?”  Or that I not be in want and steal,  And profane the name of my God.

Tom and I begin a journey tonight, taking a Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey.  I don’t know where it will lead.  I don’t know what God is doing.  But I invite you to follow along, because surely, I believe, we are not alone. I am tired of this heavy and oppressive way of life.

Are you too suffocating from the weight of the “American Dream?”  Are you burdened by consumption without knowing what to do about it?

I invite you to follow along and see what we learn.


I am Not Ashamed

 

 

 

At the end before I quit completely, I was a messy drunk because by then I had to drink a lot to be messed up.   More than I want to admit I had occasions of being a mess, stumbling to bed.  And many, many Sundays I sat through church with the world’s worst hangover.  My faith was shot.

I don’t really know why I was in church, except that I was still keening inside for God to help me.  I am glad I was there, in the end.  Thankful!

Those days were vile, don’t misunderstand.  But I do not feel ashamed.  I’ll tell you why in a minute.  Anyone who regularly reads my blog also knows I also suffer from major depression and that too wrecked my life.  You’re basically non-functioning when it is at its worst.

But I’m talking about why I am not ashamed of suffering from depression or of being a recovering alcoholic.

Why should I be ashamed?

I recently told a group of new friends (They are perhaps more like close acquaintances that I believe will become friends eventually) about my years of depression.  I told them quite matter-of-fact, asking for prayer for the process of slowly stepping down from the anti-depressant I take.  Afterwords, one of them came up to me and whispered out of the side of their mouth, full of embarrassment and clearly full of fear, “I struggle with depression too!”

In that moment I saw how frightening and risky it was for them to tell me.  And I realized all of a sudden that I did not feel that self-consciousness or shame.  I quite accept my lot in life.   Should I feel ashamed?  Am I supposed to be, because I’m a Christ-follower, perfect? I think too often people feel that same reticence.  They fear judgment.

This is the real deal.  Life is not perfect.  Life is what happens when you’re making other plans right?  I don’t know who said that?  But don’t get me wrong, I have not always felt this way — free and unashamed.

I have been there — Where I could not say these words in one sentence: I– am– an– alcoholic.  That four-word sentence took me five years to say out loud and two more to another human being. (Yes, I talk to myself.)  And now that I have, I am not going back to live in that shame.  So, no I don’t look at the person who shared with me in any judgmental way.  I understand the fear.

It took me almost two months to admit to anyone, including Tom for five weeks, that I was depressed.  There is an incredible bias or self-conscious reluctance (for Christians especially) to admit to the illness of depression.  I run into people all the time.  Well forget it.  I am not ashamed.

I’ve talked a lot here about alcoholism and family history.  Depression runs in families too.  Both of these things are simply my Thing.  My challenge.  My opportunity.  Other people have other Things.

As a Christian, what I hope people will hear the WOW in my storythe thing is that God is healing me! Yes, that is what I said.  That is what I believe.  There’s a psychological aspect to getting past/through/beyond these things, of course.  Doctors have played an important part.  Medication.  Finding balance.   But it came down to believing this simple statement:

You are the one Jesus loves.

My father sent me a postcard with this written on it, when I had the first episode of major depression eight years ago.  It was framed when I got it and clearly very important to him.  He had taken it right off his desk, stuck it in a padded envelope, wrote on a post-it that he loved me, and mailed it off to me.  The glass didn’t survive the journey, but the postcard did.  And over the years that statement has stayed with me.

When I read that day that “You are the one Jesus loves” I recoiled.  My stomach lurched.  Because, at that time in my life, I did not believe in the claims of Jesus I don’t think. I believed in the historical figure and in most of what the Bible said.  But, as for Jesus, the human and the son of God, who gave up life in a gruesome way FOR ME, well, I did not believe it.  I never believed I was loved growing up.  Not by God, not by my parents.  And definitely I hated myself.

So the healing that came in discovering how much Jesus actually loved me, well … as you can imagine that changed me.  Changed my life.  Changed my belief system.  Changed how I interacted with and treated others.  Changed my priorities.

I am a different person.

I not only like myself, but today I believe I am loveable.  I guess psychiatrists would say that my “self-esteem” is stronger.  Yay!  It’s true.  No wonder my mood is better.  But in all seriousness, knowing — believing — that Jesus would have given his life for me, and me alone, only me, well, that’s incredible!

[This wasn’t one of those miracles that happened quickly.  It took lot a of Bible study, times of prayer, listening to and working hard with my Shrink, giving up shit (drinking, smoking, being mean to people, compulsive spending, obsessive self-centeredness, … still working on perfectionism and a lot of other things.)

What I mean to say is this process took years. Deep times in the word of God (ie. Bible).  Time with friends in long conversations.  Opening my heart to love from others – especially Tom.]

So, no I am not ashamed of my ills, damn it! (Yeah, Tom thinks I should give up cussing for Jesus too.  It’s the last cheap drug to go aside from caffeine.)

You see, all of these thing they are a “weakness” of a sort that humble me and help me stay connected to the true source of everything.  And for that, I am oh — so — grateful!