Jonathan Must Come Home

Untimely Death

If there’s ever a story in the Bible that has moved and broken my heart on the subject of the untimely death of such an amazing person, it must be that of Jonathan. My humanity compels me to a complicated conflicted emotional tag between God’s choice (David) and Israel’s rightful heir (Jonathan) who is set to be the next king of Israel. Unlike his father, Jonathan is the type of friend to David that EVERY human being would die to have! He is so selfless, loyal, expressive and absolutely fights for David even though he knows what David’s success would mean for him.

His Father Saul is decisive—David must die! Why? He is keenly aware that God has moved on and given the throne to one (in God’s own words) better than him. As Saul does all he can to push back the plan God has not only set in motion, but executed and blessed, Jonathan his son who is scheduled to be king is found doing quite the opposite.

As tension is rising in the Palace the king is no longer annoyed with God, Samuel and God’s choice (David) only, he is now angry with his own son Jonathan who he suspects is helping David in secret.

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?  For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”  Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”  But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So, Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.  And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him (1 Samuel 20:30-34)

If you are familiar with the story, you know that Jonathan leaves this conversation and heads straight to a private appointment he had scheduled with David. Of course, he knew the implication of taking David’s side. The two weep, embrace and confirm both their fears. Someone they both love is trying to kill David. What’s more gut wrenching, someone more powerful than all three of them combined has made a choice that leaves everyone uncomfortable. No matter how the story ends, a heart will be deeply wounded. Jonathan and David are both torn. We love each other deeply, but God has chosen one of us. Whatever the aftermath, we must honor the choice heaven has made.

As THE chosen one weeps uncontrollably—knowing he must head for the wilderness (alone) at least for a time, the other weeps with a yielding surrender of the throne, glory and crown he had held as a prince—destined to be king. They kiss one another, embrace each other as tightly as only a brother can hold a brother you know you may never see again. And as difficult it must have been to let go, Jonathan and David make bloody vows and promises they live to keep, and there in grief, the two friends part ways.

I cannot even begin to express the respect I have for Jonathan!

Not only did he accept the will of God, he lovingly gave up the throne to David because he saw that God’s hand was upon David AND David had what God needed for the task ahead! He blessed David. He respectfully disagreed with his father, stood up for what he knew was right and walked humbly from the high place of honor.

I have been to funerals that felt much like the day David received news that Jonathan had died in battle. The aching restlessness of my own heart has primarily been from the difficulty reconciling how an amazing person who loves, and honors God can die so prematurely. It is this story that has helped me time and again to remember, that God has a purpose HE is trying to fulfill.

When HE decisively says: Jonathan Must Come Home! He has already factored in the 40 years that David would reign as king over His chosen people Israel, the wars David would fight, the songs and Psalms David would write, the kingdom David would expand and establish, the glory David would bring Him and ULTIMATELY, The SON of David that would come through His lineage, hang on a tree and save all of humanity!

Don’t worry: Jonathan is home, but he is home with GOD. But not just with God, David joined them only 40 short years later! A friend is a friend forever—If the LORD is the LORD of them!

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You will Bloom and Bear Fruit

Only what is REAL can nourish - Marlene Maina (7.19.18)

Walking inside Hobby Lobby recently, I was so tempted to buy the new colorful synthetic blooms of artificial flowers on sale for our garden. What stopped me was the memory I cannot erase of just last summer (2017) how beautiful our backyard looked (so many colorful breathtaking flowers) that the previous home owners had nurtured and planted around the house. Our backyard (pictures below) was flourishing! Not only did it look amazing, we were all mesmerized by the stunning butterflies, red-robins, bees, bunnies and so many of God’s creatures that came to our home for their needed daily nourishment.

I stood for a moment holding one giant hot pink flower made of tin. This is impressive! I thought. But that’s where it ends. Fake things can only impress. They are lifeless and can therefore give no life. They may cut out the trouble and sweat that goes into planting, nurturing a thriving garden, but all artificial flowers can do is look perfect every season (though of course they remain fruitless). And that was why I put the flower back. I don’t want a life that looks impressive. I want a life that bears fruit and nourishes many. A life that has undergone the undesirable, but necessary due process of struggling out the dirt to finally bear real fruit.

If the towering Sunflower in our garden was to ask God “What is my purpose?” I am pretty certain, God would answer “I have put you out there to tell a story, to display my glory AND to produce (nectar, pollen and seeds for this season and the next).” The flowers don’t complain that the bees are using them for honey and the apple tree does not fuss over how many more apples were taken from her. They simply live out their purpose.

And so with that I made a decision. I ordered a hoe. I must till the ground, plant the seed, water the seed and wait patiently for the seed to germinate to do what it was truly designed to do; and that is to give life!

Unfortunately, retailers report a surge in sales of artificial plants, blooms and so many other things lately. It’s hard not to see that this is the general direction many of our lives are headed. Many posts are solely posted simply to impress, not to nourish anyone. God is constantly sending people your way. They are either finding food or leaving in frustration and disbelief. To be authentic, you must be willing to accept everything that comes with becoming real. Yes, some seasons will call for you and I to endure some serious darkness and isolation in the dirt where God has planted us. Our lives may even go through soggy wet seasons of tears, messy muddy seasons of floundering with sin and messing up, lonely obscure holes where we struggle for our new identities in Christ but this we must do in-spite the fact that no one yet knows our names or celebrates our beauty or our blooms!

That coveted season does surely come!  After the dry season, the cold season and even our own fear of dying to self or dying at all… but remember, you are planted, not buried. A fruitful season is coming! You will bloom and you will bear fruit, but not just to be impressive.  Your beauty must contribute to creations collective display of God’s glory! YET, even that season will also be for a time! So we are not to get lost in our prime seasons of (strength, youth, health, popularity, power, money or commerce). People will automatically flock to you for nourishment when you bloom where you are planted, but always remember, it is for a purpose and for a time. Some may be thankful, others thankless, but as long as you are doing what God had in mind when HE made you, you can ENJOY your season to nourish others and bloom to your VERY brightest capacity!

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:11)

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Unblessed

A Fading Glory

 Unblessed

Profound sadness gripped my soul as I read the disheartening account of the story in first Samuel Ch. 13.  The last verse (v22) reads…

So on the day of battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had a sword in hand.

Can you imagine how helpless you would feel facing your greatest battle with no defenses at all? And as the king leading a whole nation, can you picture the pressure and anxiety of not being able to protect your own people… their possessions, the children, elderly and most vulnerable? Can you imagine looking at your oldest son (the only other person with a sword in the entire nation; other than you)?  A son who is now looking up to you for military directives, knowing you are outnumbered, overpowered and don’t stand a chance to win the battle set in front of you?

For years and years, Israel had been oppressed, harassed and attacked by the Philistines and this day was no different. The Philistines had assembled to fight against Israel.  Their army consisted of 3,000 chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore, while Israel, on the other hand, had 2 armed men and a dwindling army of 600 men whose counterparts had run off in fear to hide in caves, rocks, and thickets—some even crossing the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul too was afraid.  His ONLY consolation was that Samuel was on his way.  The only problem, Samuel was late.  Samuel represented something BIGGER to Saul and the whole nation.  Samuel’s presence was as good as God’s presence in Israel.  He was the mouthpiece of God.  A prophet and a judge, a consecrated priest who God had appointed at a very young age to take the place of Eli and his (irreverent sons—Hophni and Phinehas).  If Samuel came, it was 99.9% likely God would deliver Israel with a miracle.  And oh’ how Israel needed a MIRACLE at that very moment.

Unfortunately, however, with more men dropping off the force, and Saul unable to contain his fear—he gives into the pressure and decides to do what Samuel alone was appointed to do.  He offers the sacrifice.  Desperate to seek the LORD’s favor, Saul offers the sacrifice (a sacred role reserved for God’s priests). But just as soon as Saul is finished offering the sacrifice, Samuel arrives. “What is this you have done? You have done a foolish thing” if Saul’s heart could sink any deeper—these were seriously not the words he needed at a time like this, but wait, there was more.

“You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

What a sorrowful day for Saul.  Could things get any worse?

Can you think of a time when things were going so well, and God’s favor seemed to overtake you at every turn? You were thriving, you were flourishing, you were prosperous and secure—but then things began to fall apart.  Samuel leaves Saul and heads to Gilgal.  The Bible never even mentions his input into the current attack and war Saul was facing. I cannot even begin to imagine the despondency.  It’s one thing for a man to forsake you—but can you fathom God withdrawing His precious Spirit and presence from you?! I sure cannot.

Those who have tasted the grace and glory of God know O’ too well what a terrifying glimpse of life without that grace might look like. And like King David, we all shudder and cling to the dust–on our faces, earnestly groaning—Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11).

With the aid of God, we are still at best dependent and unfit for His service.  So without His aid, we are undone, we are unblessed, and we have no chance to stand against the evil that seeks to hound and overwhelm us on every side.

Glory is seldom abruptly stripped from a life, family or nation.  It is usually a slow fade.  To lose sight of the greatness of our sin and wretchedness, the brutality and price of Calvary—the precious blood God shed for our own redemption and the magnitude of the debt of gratitude we owe to a gracious God for such a redemption–is to lose at every front.

Let us examine our ways o’ glorious ones!  If you have known peace, joy, hope, and a blessed flourishing life—then let us keep in step with the Spirit of God who has so richly blessed each one of us, lest our glory fade and we come to know our unblessed nakedness without the Spirit of the LIVING GOD!

That is why Israel is unable to stand against her enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction (Joshua 7:12)

cropped-marlene-maina-signature-black-and-white-jji.png Marlene Maina | 9.8.17

Samuel: A Rare Clarity

To hear HIM wellThe Desire to Hear HIM Well

As I journey through first Samuel once more, a deep longing of desire overwhelmed me when I came to chapter nine.  Not only did I enjoy the story, it felt new! I was pulled in by the intimate detailed conversations between Saul and Samuel and their first meeting and introductory days near Mizpah. Was this story always this beautiful? The new beginnings for Saul, Samuel and a persistent Israel are quite captivating. Saul, who knew little to nothing about Samuel is unknowingly led by God (with the help of a servant) right to the proverbial doorsteps of a well-informed prophet who God had prepared in detail to anticipate his arrival.

The Bible tells us, Samuel was now old.  His sons (Joel & Abijah) who Samuel had appointed to lead Israel were reported to have turned aside after dishonest gain, accepting bribes and perverting justice—reminding us much of the sons of Eli, the high priest who tiny little Samuel had replaced. Which meant the old man Samuel had to continue in his role as prophet and judge over Israel until the LORD could find someone of the same spirit.

The backdrop of this scene is of course not good.  God’s heart is broken.  His people have rejected Him and asked for a king.  Samuel is grieved, but God insists he should listen to the people and do as they have asked.  It is in the midst of this grief where God permissively grants Israel’s request that something beautiful emerged out of the chapter for me personally—deeply endearing my heart to the God of Israel.

For one, He (God) cautions the people of what having a king might mean for their properties and their sons and daughters. When they insist to go forward, He does not begrudge them or treat them with resentment—even though he would be completely justified to withdraw His participation and presence from the entire thing. Instead, God remains loving and engaged.  He even guides Samuel through a VERY detailed process telling him that He would be guiding a young man to him the next day and what Samuel is to say to him.

Can I please point out that God’s character is SO deeply endearing to me?! He is impressive, above reproach and simply amazing!  He had judged the house of Eli and raised up Samuel.  He could dwell on the sin of the sons of Samuel or the collective stubbornness of the hearts of the house of Israel, or He could simply walk out of this and let Israel figure it out—but He doesn’t. Instead, He simply moves forward with the vessel that is willing, faithful and yielded to Him not being hindered by Samuel’s age, the people’s rejection of Him, or the omniscience He holds to know what Israel’s future was going to look like in just a few short years. He talks to Samuel, he asks him to anoint Saul with oil. Read the details.  Samuel is able to give Saul blow-by-blow details of what his journey back home would look like.  God even fills him with the Holy Spirit and literally–changes the man to equip him for the job, signifying that He dearly cares for His people even when we are walking outside of His ways. What a heart! This is beautiful; totally worth emulating!

I gleaned quite a few practical lessons from this passage today, but the deepest longing it awakened in my soul that brought me to my knees before heaven was the intimacy God shared with Samuel. Samuel did not have to guess or wonder what God was saying—he heard God clearly and consistently.  The instructions Samuel gave Saul were accurate and reliable.  They were the VERY words of God!  “You stay here for a little while” he had told Saul “so that I may give you a message from God”.  These words would make any 21st-century Christian cringe (because of how misused they have been), yet this was how Samuel had led Israel, and he would be the very same channel God would use to visit Jesse—regarding God’s own choice for King (David).  So I got on my knees this morning and I prayed earnestly “Lord, I desire to hear you exceptionally well.” Lead me, guide me, and grant me such intimate clear lines of communication with you, that I too like Samuel (in spite the wrong or evil that was going on with his family or his nation) will be able to hear you my LORD with a rare clarity—and speak reliable words that will lead your people to honor your great name.

 Marlene Maina  // 9.1.17