I am Mephibosheth, sort of

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The news stunned him. Acid began contorting his stomach into a paroxysmal attack.  Ziba had just come back from the palace, dropping this bombshell, one he had been fearing ever since his dad and grandpa had been killed in battle.

Now that Israel’s true hero David, the one who had slain Goliath without hesitation, reigned in King Saul’s place, Mephibosheth had known this day would arrive.  He had expected it weeks, even months ago.  Everyone knew that new kings wiped out any and all people connected with previous rulers. The only explanation for his delayed execution was that David had more pressing enemies.

“Defeating the Philistines is keeping the new king busy.  Maybe he’ll….forget about me?  After all, what threat do I, a man who can’t even walk, pose.  It’s humiliating enough that my steward Ziba assigns men to carry me from my bed to the bathroom to the table to the veranda.  There is no way I could stage an overthrow to take back what is rightfully mine.”

Yes, Mephibosheth was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne as the only surviving male in the dynasty.  But his dad Jonathan had in effect given up the right to succeed Saul when he took off his ‘heir apparent’ cloak and placed it on his most trusted, beloved friend and comrade, David.  Jonathan had announced to Mephibosheth and little grandson Mica that David would be the next king, not he. Never had Mephibosheth pictured that his dad and his uncles would die in battle WITH the king.  He had trusted Jonathan’s friendship with David.  But all changed when Dad died.

Resigning himself to the inevitable execution in the next week days, Mephibosheth prepared his heart. If this summons meant an audience first with the King before dying, then he knew in what manner he would face David.

Little did he know David’s true intent:

2 Samuel 9:1: David asked,”Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Someone recalled Ziba, chief over all the attendants serving Saul’s household and family. Messengers located Ziba and then escorted him to the palace in Jerusalem.  From Ziba David learned that Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, survived.  Apparently, Mephibosheth maintained what he thought was a low profile up north in Makir’s house.  Ziba directed his men to transport this crippled former heir to dead King Saul.

Let’s pick up with the dramatic tête-à-tête:

2 Sam 9:6  When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. 

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him,”for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.  I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said,”What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?

Reading Mephibosheth’s response stunned me. His self-description ‘dead dog like me’ accurately reflected his status.  He was dead meat, for sure, no better than a ‘dog’. Contemporary culture at the time despised canines, often categorizing their heathen enemies as dogs.

So, what was it that startled me enough to think deeply about this vignette in David’s life?

I am Mephibosheth….in some ways.  Seeing Mephibosheth’s self-assessment reflects my true status. What is that? Simply that apart from God’s grace toward me, I remain an enemy by nature and deserving execution.  Like Jonathan’s son,  I am also a cripple, incapable and resistant to being in the King’s presence.

But here is how we differ:

  • I don’t REALLY believe that I am like a dead dog, and all that expression carried back then.
  • Therefore, I am unconscious most of the time of what my life would look like were it not for God’s grace.

Here’s my question for myself:

“If this news stunned the humble and honest Mephibosheth, what will it take for you, Maria, to SEE the unimaginable kindness of King Jesus toward you? Why don’t you wake up every morning, pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming, that your new status as friend of the King is REAL and SECURE ?  Where is your daily mirth, your transparent joy?  Does your face or any words or actions even hint at the enormity of this life-altering gift?”

I have no answer or excuse.  But I thank God for gently shining His light through His Word on my unholy responses to Him.

 

A reluctant child – a lesson about God’s love

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I was that reluctant child who complained about where God planted me.  Six years ago when we moved to western NC, God opened ONE door to teach French, all the way in Asheville, a 50-minute each-way commute. Within 6 weeks, I didn’t want to be there.  School was difficult.   An experienced French teacher (and filled with pride, I found out), I had come from a supportive Christian classical school. My principal liked me.  Parents were pleased with me.  I enjoyed good rapport with my students.

But at this new school disgruntled parents complained to my principal about their unhappy children.  I was stunned.  Parents didn’t talk to me, but went right to my principal.  By January, I was on an ‘informal’ probation.  This brutal first year humbled me. I even went so far as to contemplating cleaning houses as an alternative source of income.

But God!  Amazingly He got me through year 1 with a contract for another term.  I didn’t want to go back.  Despite job hunting that summer, He kept all other doors shut. I had no choice but to go back for year 2.  And year 3.  And year 4.

Something happened by the end of year 4.  By then I had enjoyed many hours getting to know my middle-school colleagues. I also grew professionally in how I coached kids to acquire French.  The school invested in me by funding further world-language training up in Boston where I was exposed to new ideas about teaching French with comprehensible input.  I was grateful.

In essence, though I did not want to be at this school for a number of reasons, I grew personally and professionally, in the midst of suffering and difficulties.  Working where God so clearly intended me to be remained hard, every day.

One shift in thinking did help somewhat. I’ve always wanted to use my French skills to teach others about the greatness of God. When I realized that I would not think it strange to encounter hardship on the mission field, I tried to stop whining to God.  Thinking about this teaching assignment as ministry helped.  Suddenly I could see that while teaching French was my official duty, being present to my colleagues, their parents and students was my primary calling.

It’s easy for me to get to know people. God has given me a real interest in people’s stories and problems.  I found that by inquiring and listening well, I could encourage both secular colleagues and those with a knowledge of God.  I offered to pray for both groups.  Gradually some opened up to me, sensing that they were safe in unburdening themselves. My heart was drawn even more towards them.  Each day I prayed for openings to say something true, beautiful and good about God.

Fast forward to a painful 2018 for Mike.  Vocationally and spiritually he had been struggling for 4 years after a honeymoon first year.  Setbacks and closed doors humbled him.  Spiraling into depression he found a biblical counselor.  By the end of November, only 4 months ago, God suddenly revealed the ‘unthinkable’:  Mike needed to look for  full-time work and we should put the house on the market. 

Now at the end of March 2019, God has sold our house, moved us to Huntsville, Alabama and Mike starts work on Monday, 1 April 2019.  And I no longer teach at my school. The other ‘unthinkable’ was that I did not finish out the school year.  I left teaching French with 8 weeks remaining in the school year.

Now for the good part!  Here is how God poured out love on this reluctant, often whiny child:

  • As soon as my principal informed parents that Madame Cochrane would be leaving to accompany her husband on a new adventure, parents wrote me and students swarmed me.  I heard how much everyone loved me and how sad they were that I was departing.  Students shared how much French they had acquired and what a loving, caring advisor I had been.
  • My sixth-grade team of teachers fêted me with Keto-snacks and tickets to the botanical gardens in Huntsville.  I heard from some teachers how much they appreciated my personal interest in their lives. ‘Who is going to ask me about my family?’ lamented the art teacher.
  • My last day some of my students gave me gifts, sang a song in French, hugged me A LOT, made a good-bye poster in French, hugged me more.
  • That same last day, colleagues shared lunch with me and gave me personalized book suggestions, a cross-stitch of my favorite Bible verse and a gift card for books!
  • Three hours later at a faculty meeting I did not attend, since it was my last day, the head of the school announced that 7 full-time teachers and 4 full-time staff were having their contracts for next year revoked, due to lower enrollment.

God’s timing floored me as much as the early-complaining parents caught me by surprise.  He providentially arranged for me to leave this school on a high note with a love-filled sendoff before my colleagues knew about the falling ax of some job losses.

Since my final school day ten days ago, here’s what I have concluded:

Proverbs 11:25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

None of us embraces suffering willingly – it’s too painful. We like comfort and ease. However, in God’s hands, suffering brings rich blessings to the child of God.

Mike and I prayed over and planned the move to western North Carolina.  God clearly opened the doors for that transition, leading us to an amazing house on 10 acres in the Smokies and a well-paying French job for me. We reveled in the beauty.  Easy access to hiking was the main reason we chose this spot.  I also grew very close to Christian sisters, both in the community and at our church – a major gift from a loving Father.

Yet I suffered. And God worked through me in ways I had not anticipated.  As John Piper says:  Don’t waste your suffering!  By God’s grace I didn’t.  Nor did Mike.

Although this post is mostly about me, I will say that Mike was equally flabbergasted at the outpouring of feelings and gratitude and love from our church family AND from the beneficiaries of reporting he had done for World News Group. An equally reluctant worker, he would occasionally lament: “I never wanted to be a journalist!”. Yet God blessed that sometimes complaining tech reporter and church member.

Bottom line conclusion.  Our Father DOES know what is best, for us and for others. Sometimes where God has us is NOT about us, but for the blessing of others.

Fruit of the Spirit – a different angle

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Calling all abiding branches!

Here is a simple question:  If you are abiding in Jesus – that is, if you are connected through the Holy Spirit to our Holy Vine, Jesus, are you close to Jesus or distant?

Picturing grapes or tomatoes, it’s easy to see that the fruit-producing branch keeps company with the vine beCAUSE of a live connection.

Another question: What are we branches to look at or fill our minds with while we abide in and stay connected to Jesus’?

That’s easy – where do we find any news of Jesus?  In the Bible.  So the most logical place to find food for our minds is the gospel accounts of Jesus’ actions and words as well as the writings of the prophets and apostles.  The Gospels furnish us with his words of truth, to include promises of blessings and woes.

With those ideas in place, let me relate to you what I saw this week when thinking about the fruit of the spirit.

I started to wonder:  Could it be that fruit emerges the more we look at Jesus’ fruit?  Could it be that the ONLY way for us to bear God-produced fruit on our branch is to LOOK at Jesus’ fruit?  If healing from snakebites came to Israel from gazing at the bronze serpent, might not that principle be at work here?

After all, who do you know who tops Jesus in showing agape love, calm joy, unhurried peace and contentment, fretless patience, genuine kindness not only to inquiring Pharisees but to ‘untouchable’ women and sick mothers-in-law as well, goodness to the undeserving, faithfulness to his heavenly Father (not to mention to us), ‘controlled strength’ – aka meekness and finally…….. supernatural self-control when spat upon, mocked and tortured?

I know I make the Christian life of discipleship more complicated than necessary.  Do you find yourself doing the same? And aren’t we all just plain exhausted by all this doing and trying?

What would it be like JUST to trust our good shepherd when he makes us lie down near him? What if all we ‘had to do’ was to feast on him and be satisfied in him?  How?  by resting in what he has already done.

The more we turn to him for our provision and cling to him, the more natural will be the harvest in our lives.

I think we often TRY to produce the fruit ourselves.  But that is not what we see in nature?  After all, what tomato branches resolve to put forth tasty Heirlooms for the picking?

Nature doesn’t work that way nor does Jesus call us to this alien way.  I think he says something like, ‘Don’t work for me, just fill up on me.  Look to me and be satisfied in what I have already done for you and others and what I have taught awaits you.

It is THAT contentment which makes for ideal fruit-bearing in us, the branches.

And when we DO accept his way, the pay off is categorically better: A harvest for others (patience, self-control, and kindness) and plenty of produce for us (joy and peace and feeling God’s approval).

 

 

How many hairs do I have on my head?

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Hairs are numbered

Big deal – so God knows how many hairs I have.  I’ve never understood why Jesus even bothered to say that?

But this week, all of a sudden, Jesus’ words as recorded by Luke stopped me cold.  I realized that I myself don’t know THAT fact about my hair.  What else don’t I know about myself? And what kind of God must our creator be to have that kind of detailed knowledge?  And if he is always aware of the minutia of my life, then he must be intimate with everything else about me, to include the really big stuff.

Suddenly it made sense that God cares enough to keep up with everything about me.  Don’t I care about what I fashion? Don’t I feel a sense of pride and affection and a close bond with my grown sons?  And I didn’t create them, I ‘merely’ raised and loved and taught them.

I like this now, that my heavenly Father knows even the tiniest FACT about me before I ever notice.  That feels like love. And in the preceding verse (Luke 12:6) he even says that I’m way more important than sparrows. And the level of care he shows to these common birds is phenomenal.  Not a single one is “epi-lanth-a-no-mai” – that is forgotten, neglected or uncared for.  If that is how our heavenly Father takes care of the animal kingdom, then how much more valuable am I or are you?

Hmm….so how should I treat my neighbor, whom this same God also created?

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