Monthly Archives: September 2013

Saturday Spotlight: Mephibosheth

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallMephibosheth, son of Jonathan, was a victim of circumstance. He was crippled at the age of 5, when his nurse dropped him while fleeing. She was trying to protect him from David. The irony is that David meant Mephibosheth no harm. Although King Saul considered David his enemy, his son Jonathan and David had a deep friendship. For Jonathan’s sake, Mephibosheth would have been safe under David’s protection.

 

By the time David found him, Mephibosheth was a grown man with a child of his own. Raised to believe that David was out to get him, when he was brought before David, Mephibosheth referred to himself as a dog. However, out of love for Jonathan, David gave Mephibosheth all the inheritance due him and insisted that he join the royal household, eating all his meals at David’s table. What was it like for this man, who grew up living in fear and poverty, to accept lavish generosity–especially from someone he had been told was his enemy?

 

It isn’t always easy to accept good things when we’ve become accustomed to hard times. What’s familliar becomes comfortable–even when it’s painful. Change–even for the good–can be intimidating. But God works in all circumstances. Yes, we need to learn to accept hard challenges and turn to God for strength to get through them, but good times come, too. Jesus didn’t refuse a good time when it came his way…in fact, he was even accused of being a glutton and drunkard. (Luke 7:34)

 

Mephibosheth’s story demonstrates that the way things are at any point in time is not the way they will always be. Jesus embraced his times of joy and sorrow. As did Mephibosheth. As we are invited to do.

 

After one encounter with David, Mephibosheth’s circumstances drastically changed for the better. What do you see as the biggest challenge in accepting a change for the good?  How can gratitude help you handle both blessings and misfortunes?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Defeat

He did not forget us when we were defeated; his love is eternal. Psalm 136:23

 

God did not forget us when we were defeated—it only felt like it. When we are down, it is easy to feel abandoned by God. If He “remembers” us when we’re in the pits, and his love is eternal, why does he allow us to remain there, or even get there in the first place?

 

I don’t know about anybody else, but sometimes it’s only when I am down and can’t get myself back up by my own efforts, that I am willing to listen to God’s plan. I wish I was perfectly surrendered to Him all the time, but I’m not. I know intellectually that God’s plan is good and wise, but my default setting seems to be to do things on my own steam until I get stuck. I’ve felt defeated with family relationships, career moves, and health issues. Listing all the times I’ve been brought to my knees by my own helplessness, implored God’s help, and somehow risen again would look like a life-long diary. So often I’ve kept trying to do what I thought I should be doing when, in retrospect, all God wanted me to do was trust Him and give up control.

 

God knows me very well. Each time my plans have been thoroughly defeated and my scenarios crumble, I become willing to let go and let God on a deeper level. The “aha” moments penetrate my heart and I accept that God has other plans. St. Paul said that all he had done on his own he thought of as so much trash. When we let go and act as God directs-well aware of our helplessness apart from Him-then we can boast in His power and glory, not our own.

 

Thank God that his love is eternal, because my heart needs to keep learning the lesson of surrender over and over. How about you?

 

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for loving me at all times.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How have you found God’s presence in the midst of your own defeat?

Saturday Spotlight: Nehemiah

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallNehemiah, a wine steward, ended up as governor of Judah. He organized the rebulding of the wall of Jerusalem, overcame opposition, reinstituted worship in the Temple, and renewed the practice of the faith. Not bad for a captive who had lived in exile waiting on his captor for who knows how long. How did he do it?

 

The book of Nehemiah does not describe fantastic visions or dramatic miracles. What is demonstrated, over and over again, is Nehemiah’s unassuming faith and practical application of it. When he heard news that his beloved Jerusalam was in desperate straits, instead of railing against God, Nehemiah accepted responsibility along with his people for having brought exile upon themselves through disobedience. He dared to hope, trusting in God’s mercy. Nehemiah is an example of patience, prudence, and humility. He didn’t resent his humble station as wine steward. He didn’t give in to impatience or lose faith when his prayers seemed unanswered. He quietly fulfilled his daily obligations. His faithful service and lack of presumption may have been what inspired Artaxerxes to trust this prudent man and send him back to govern Jerusalem.

 

Step by step, Nehemiah handled the events and challenges that came along. By unremarkabale means he achieved remarkable things, because he relied on God, and kept on taking the next right action. We can also serve in important but unspectacular ways. God has plans for us, too. We can faithfully perform the tasks at hand. When opportunities present themselves, we can accept the responsibilities that come our way. We can be who we are. God can use us when we are true to our own nature.

 

Nehemiah longed for a solution to Jerusalem’s plight. When asked, he volunteered to take an active part in the solution. What situation would you like to see changed for the better? How can you participate in the solution?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters & Other Bible Heroes”

Wednesday’s Word: Perfection

“…Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” Matthew 19: 17b; 21

 

Keeping the commandments is an entrance to living, not the determining factor of perfection. Not hurting others by murder, theft, or slander, respecting our parents—these are the bare minimum of peaceful co-existence. Of course, we all fall short many times, once we look more closely at the subtleties of cheating, gossip, and betrayal. But focusing on scrupulously keeping the letter of the law tangles us up and keeps us centered on ourselves, how we’re doing, and how others think we’re doing.

 

Do we want to feel worthy of eternal life or do we want to experience the reality of eternal life? If we truly want the perfection that comes from spiritual maturity, Jesus invites us to abandon ourselves to God’s care, not our own good deeds. Do we dare to trust God enough to sacrifice the things that makes us feel secure in order to love and help those in need?

 

The young man may have been challenged to let go of his riches because reliance on them blocked him from the growth he sought. We may not be called to get rid of all our worldly possessions but—if we want to experience eternal life in the here and now—we are called to surrender our illusions of security. We’re invited to let go of whatever blocks us from seeing our need God, because, let’s face it: apart from God there is no eternal life.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to let go of my illusions of security and trust You.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What possessions, talents, or personal characteristics make you feel secure? In what ways do you trust in them, rather than God’s love and mercy?

Saturday Spotlight: Hosea, Fool For God

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallPoor Hosea! This prophet married a prostitute. Although he did it in obedience to God’s command, it had to make his life even harder than it already was. Hosea was commissioned by God to warn the Israelites about their unfaithfulness to God and the painful consequences. Despite an ultimate promise of hope, it was an unpopular message. Hosea felt the brunt of the people’s rejection. Who wants to be challenged? Besides, Hosea had married a faithless woman. No doubt the Israelites felt justified in tuning him out. In spite of what they thought, Hosea was obeying God (and quite possibly following his own heart.)

 

In Old Testament times, there were no audiovisual aides. Prophets often demonstrated the concepts God wanted to communicate by acting them out. By taking his wife back after she had committed adultery,  Hosea demonstrated God’s faithfulness to us even when we turn away from Him. St. Paul also risked appearing foolish in order to speak God’s truth, affirming that God’s apparent foolishness exceeds human wisdom. Hosea remained true in the face of failure, rejection, and personal heartache. His was not an easy mission, but he accepted it.

 

What does Hoesea’s calling have to say to us? We are called to be witnesses to God’s power and love. We witness by the choices we make. This doesn’t mean we are called to remain in abusive relationships. It does mean that our vocation includes learning to give more weight to what God wants for us than what public opinion dictates. It means believing in the God of second chances for those willing to amend their ways. It means accepting second changes for ourselves and giving second chances to others. However, allowing people to walk all over us is not giving them a second chance. It is enabling them to continue their self-centered or self-destructive patterns. I suspect this is why Hosea took back his wife only after insisting that she commit to a period of abstinence. Being open to reconciliation within healthy boundaries is a life-giving opportunity in any relationship.

 

Hosea’s experience reassures us that God will always take us back when we turn to him. When we do, he will see us through any consequences we may have borugh on ourselves by our own poor choices. It confirms that our suffering is not without purpose.  With God, Hosea’s personal hardship was used to benefit others.

 

Pain without purpose is misery. Pain with a purpose is redeeming. When we have weathered and come through our own storms, others know our words of comfort are not given lightly. We offer hope in a way that those whose lives have been untouched by pain cannot. We become living examples that heartache, broken relationships, physical pain and grief are not insurmountable with the help of God.

 

Reflection:  When has the wisdom of God proven to be wiser than human understanding in your own life?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”

Saturday Spotlight: Esther, Orphan Queen

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallThe Persian king’s servants gathered all the beautiful young virgins of Susa to his harem. They were subjected to extensive beauty treatments so the king could choose one to be queen. Among these girls was Esther, an orphaned Jew who had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai. He told Esther not to reveal to anyone in the harem that she was Jewish, and she obeyed. Esther was well liked by the eunuch in charge of the harem and followed his instructions. After a year of massages and beauty treatments, Esther was taken to the king and became queen.

 

Who would have guessed that God would call someone to serve him by spending time in a beauty spa? By God’s plan, Esther became queen, not only for her own good fortune, but for the good of all Jews throughout the kingdom. Haman, the king’s right-hand man, was bound to destroy the Jews in general and Mordecai in particular. When Mordecai learned of this, he told Esther the time had come to reveal herself as a Jew and intervene to save her people.

 

Despite being queen, Esther was in a powerless position. Anyone presuming to approach the king without being summoned risked death. Esther asked Mordecai to call a vigil in the Jewish community while she and her maids fasted in the palace. After three days, Esther risked death and entered the king’s presence. Her loveliness won the king’s favor. She invited the king along with Haman to a banquet. At a second banquet the following night, the king asked her what she wanted. She answered by requesting that she and her people be allowed to live. Who could deny a request like that? Haman and his plan to destroy the Jews both met their end.

 

God used a gorgeous, soft-spoken girl who lived a sheltered life to save a whole nation. Most of us will never be in positions of worldly authority. That’s okay. Wherever we are, we’re part of God’s plan. No matter how it may appear, we’re right where we belong at this moment in time. Those of us who feel the need to jump into action can learn from Esther’s wisdom. We can take time to open ourselves to God’s plan through prayer. We can fast, at least from the steady diet of media. We can reach out for the support of others. Although Esther walked into the palace alone, she was walking with the support of her entire faith community. She took her time in making her request known to the king. She didn’t allow her mission to goad her into hasty action. How might things have turned out if she blurted out her request right away to get it over with?

 

Esther’s story also suggests that theres a time to allow ourselves to be nurtured. Esther allowed herself to be pampered in the harem, but didn’t take her physical beauty and comforts as the last word. If she had not indulged in the luxury of the spa treatments, Esther would not have been able to play the part God called her to play. We shouldn’t be afraid to nurture ourselves when it seems appropriate. It might just make us better able to serve when the time comes.

 

How can allowing yourself to be nurtured empower you to serve others? Are you comfortable taking time to nurture yourself or allowing others to nurture you? Why or why not?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”

Wednesday’s Word: Contemplation

Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46: 10a (NRSV)

 

What if we can’t be still? What if we avoid meditating because we don’t like being still? What if we read our Bibles and talk to God, but have trouble listening in stillness to what He might be trying to tell us?

 

There are a number of methods people use to still their minds: repeating a word or phrase, focusing on an inspiring image, playing relaxing or uplifting background music. These techniques can set the stage for quieting our over-active minds, but a tool is not the event itself. What happens when the technique doesn’t bring the desired result?

 

I suggest that honesty is the best policy. If we feel fidgety or resistant, why can’t we bring that to God? What if we just surrender completely to His care? He knows us better than we know ourselves. Maybe humbly offering our resistance to Him is just as pleasing to Him as a meditation perfectly executed in our own eyes. It costs us something to carve out time to be with God when we’re itching to get on with our day. That can be a sincere demonstration that “we know that He is God.” Maybe knowing God is not so much about being able to “still” ourselves on command, but about becoming open to His supreme presence and power.

 

One translation of the above Scripture verse is, “Stop struggling and know that I am God.”  That means we can even stop struggling against our own resistance to contemplation. We can abandon ourselves to the care of the Author of Peace.

 

Prayer:  Lord, You are my God. Empower me to be still and know You.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What helps you “be still and know” God? If you struggle with being still, what can help you surrender your struggle to Him?

 

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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