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Crippled by Sin
Pantyhose and Pardons
If life really does imitate art, then mine could often be mistaken for a comedy. Instead of being the model of flawless decorum and perfect disposition, I frequently expose my desperate need for help! One of my more humorous displays of desperation happened a few years ago when I was on staff with Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. I had the opportunity to work at Focus with Dr. James Dobson for six years, so it was a bittersweet experience when it came time for me to leave and start a new job in Nashville, Tennessee. I was excited about moving back to Nashville, but I was sad about leaving my friends in Colorado. Therefore, the last few weeks were a blur of social activity, as I tried to see as many friends as possible before moving across the country.
One afternoon I was walking back toward my office from the ladies' room when I ran into a man who worked in the department next to mine. I was glad to see him because we both traveled a lot on business and I wasn't sure we'd have the chance to say good-bye. We started talking about my departure and how God orders our steps and directs our paths and how we can rest in the knowledge of His sovereignty. I was absorbed in our conversation, thinking how fortunate I had been to work with people like him; however, I was a little distracted by the fact that he wouldn't look directly at me. I kept trying to position myself so that he'd have to meet my eyes, but he kept looking out over the horizon of cubicles just beyond us. He's kind of a biblical scholar, so I thought he might be pondering some deep theological point, and that's why he wouldn't look at me. We said our good-byes after a few minutes, and he turned and walked briskly toward his office.
As I turned to walk to mine, I felt a cool breeze on my legs and looked down to find them uncovered completely uncovered. I was mortified to realize that I'd accidentally tucked my skirt into my underwear! I must've been overly enthusiastic when rearranging my wardrobe in the rest room, because instead of just tucking in my shirt, I had all but bared my bottom! To make matters worse, I was wearing "thigh highs." (For the uneducated hosiery shopper, "thigh highs" are like pantyhose in the form of really long socks, with a very tight elastic band to hold them up at the top of your leg.) They are best covered up, especially when standing brazenly in the hallway of one of the largest ministries in the free world!
Obviously, my friend had been staring off at the horizon while we were contemplating God's sovereignty because he was traumatized by my exhibition. Here we were talking about holy and divine things, and I had flesh hanging out all over! I was desperate for a hole to crawl into!
My embarrassing indecent-exposure escapade is a fitting metaphor for the rest of my life. From the moment I gulped my first breath in a hospital delivery room in Central Florida to this very moment that I'm typing away, fueled by frequent sips of Diet Coke, I've had flesh showing. Born with a healthy body, I was also born with a healthy sin nature. As an infant, all I thought about was food and sleep basically, getting my own needs met. And as you can imagine, narcissistic newborns grow up into egocentric adults. I'm a colorful sinner, and I've fallen woefully short of God's glory. I'm desperate for divine help. We all are.
C. S. Lewis paints a vivid description of how we humans seem to desecrate every good thing God does for us. In his book Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes, "We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege."1 The memory of exposed pantyhose may elicit a sheepish grin, but the sober reality of my own sacrilege causes me to shudder.
What about you? Do you ever shudder at the thought of your own sin? Do you feel desperate for God's mercy?
A Boy Named Bo
One of my favorite Old Testament stories about someone else who was desperate for mercy begins with a little boy who was saddled with a big name. He first appears in 2 Samuel 4:4:
He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.
This verse provokes more questions than it answers. Who was this poor boy who was dropped by his harried nurse and crippled as a result? Let's focus on his family tree for a minute or two and review his boyhood biography.
Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan and the grandson of Saul, who was the first king of Israel. Mephibosheth's grandfather hated a guy named David (Jesse's boy whose shepherding skills led him to a face-off with a grouchy giant named Goliath). Saul got really mad when women greeted his army (after David had rocked Goliath's world!) by singing, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." David's soaring popularity put King Saul a distant second in the public opinion polls and left him seething with envy.
To complicate matters, David was also the best friend of Saul's son Jonathan. The two loved to hunt and fish together, and they double-dated at the prom. (That's not an exact Hebrew translation!) The Bible says Jonathan loved David as he loved himself. Nonetheless, King Saul couldn't get past his own insecurity where David was concerned, and it poisoned him to the point that he decided to plot David's murder. But Jonathan defied his dad and helped David escape to the hills. (You can read 1 Samuel 20 for the rest of the story.)
Jonathan knew God had big plans for David and that He had anointed David to be the future king. So when Jonathan and David said their farewells, Jonathan looked David in the eye, and thinking of his future offspring who would likely live under David's rule, he asked David to promise him one thing: "Do not ever cut off your kindness from my family not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David's enemies from the face of the earth" (1 Samuel 20:15). David gladly agreed to the request out of love for Jonathan.
Many years later, Saul and his army were defeated in a bloody battle with the feisty Philistines. Saul lost three of his sons, including Jonathan, and took his own life by falling on his sword kind of a Hebrew hara-kiri. Afterward, the front page of the Jerusalem News reported that David was finally going to become the king of Israel. That news alarmed Saul's buddies and family members.
You see, in those days one of the first things a new king did was to kill all the royal family members and others who were loyal to the previous king. This tradition tended to discourage anyone from plotting an overthrow of the new hierarchy! Of course, David had no intention of following that cruel tradition, but the few remaining relatives of Saul didn't know that. And they were especially worried about the safety of little Mephibosheth, because he had become the presumptive heir to the throne. Now here we are finally back to the verse that started this whole soap opera of biblical history!
He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 4:4)
In other words, when the family hurried to escape, the nanny ran to get Mephibosheth from the royal playroom. But Bo didn't want to leave his Legos, so he tried to squirm out of the nanny's grasp, and she accidentally dropped him, breaking his ankles on the stone floor.
With little Mephibosheth whimpering in pain, they escaped to a place far away called Lo Debar, which in Hebrew means "barren place." Lo Debar was a little town lacking in orthopedic surgeons, so Bo's ankles didn't heal correctly, and he was permanently crippled in both feet. He moved into the home of one of his grandfather's friends and toiled away the years in obscurity a crippled young man, forsaken in a foreign city.
Twenty years later there was a knock at the door, and a well-dressed official from Jerusalem told Mephibosheth to gather his things and follow him to the palace of King David. Can you imagine what Bo was thinking? He was probably scared to death, afraid that he'd be put to death for his family's transgressions. Why else would David summon a cripple who was the grandson of the mad king who tried to murder him?
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.
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. (2 Samuel 9:5-6)
I have so much in common with Mephibosheth. How about you? Have you spent most of your life running from the fact that you're crippled by sin?
If you're anything like me, you try to hide your crippled heart behind an elaborate curtain of Christian activity as if "being good" will somehow lessen your desperate need for God's mercy. Or maybe, like Mephibosheth, your heart has become a barren place, and you often feel inadequate, undeserving, and unloved.
Our Father's Acceptance
My parents divorced when I was five years old. It wasn't a friendly divorce like the ones depicted on television sitcoms; my parents weren't amicable. Like most children, I worried that their breakup was my fault. And I tried to be very, very good so that Dad would come back home and everyone would be happy again. But he didn't. He went to live with my new stepmother and stepbrother, and I got to visit them on weekends.
Dad usually called on Thursday nights to let me know what time he was going to pick me up the next day. Anticipating his arrival turned Fridays into red-letter days! I would be so excited about seeing him that I could hardly pay attention in school. As soon as the bell rang to end the school day, I'd race home and climb into the tree fort in the big oak in our backyard. From that perch I could see the road leading to our house. I would sit and watch the big stone gates that marked the entrance to our neighborhood, waiting for Daddy's truck to drive through.
When the time came for him to pick me up, I would stand up and stare intently at the gates, literally willing my father to drive through. Sometimes I'd stand there for hours waiting for him to drive up. And every now and then, Mom would have to come out in the yard and gently tell me to climb down from the tree because it was dark and dinner was ready.
My father didn't plan on forgetting me or breaking his promises. He never intended to hurt me. He was just torn between two families, torn between following God and following his own desires, and I got caught in the middle. But I didn't understand all that when I was in the first grade.
Mom remarried a man named John Angel a few years after the divorce. I liked him from the beginning because he laughed a lot and teased me, and he used to lift me up in the air by putting his hands under my elbows and hoisting me over his head like a barbell. (I'm still very impressed with men who can hoist me over their heads!) But I wasn't sure if John really loved me, because he was my stepfather.
One day, as John and I were walking through the mall together, we ran into two women who were teachers at a school where he had been a principal many years before. They exchanged pleasantries and were catching up on career changes when one of them looked down at me and exclaimed, "Oh, John, your little girl is so cute. She looks just like you!"
I can still remember stiffening when she said that, because I just knew he was going to say that I couldn't look like him because I wasn't his real daughter. My heart sank at the thought of having my stepchild status pointed out in the middle of the mall. But then God smiled at me through John's response.
He paused, looked down at me, and said, "She does look like me, doesn't she?" Then he grinned and reached for my hand, saying firmly, "Yep, she's mine." And we walked away holding hands.
"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."
. . . So Mephibosheth ate at David's table like one of the king's sons.
. . . And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king's table, and he was crippled in both feet. (2 Samuel 9:7, 11, 13)
Mephibosheth expected punishment even death in David's court. The only prayer in his heart was for a political pardon. I expected to be labeled a stepchild. But we both found mercy. Instead of being disowned, we ate dinner. Instead of being punished, we got a room in the palace. Instead of being abandoned, we were adopted.
What about you? Have you ever expected to be disowned? Rejected?
Maybe you expect rejection from a perfect God because of your less-than-perfect past. Or maybe you're spiritually crippled by a sin that seems unforgivable. But the good news of the gospel is that our heavenly Father loves us with an everlasting love. We just need to be more like Jonathan's son in order to realize it.
We need to acknowledge the fact that we're crippled that there is nothing righteous in us, that we are desperate for His mercy. And when the Spirit prompts us to recognize our need for salvation, God provides a Savior through the sacrifice of His only son, Jesus, who rescues us from barren places and gives us a seat next to Him at the Lord's banquet table.
Because of God's mercy, our stained hearts have been bleached by the blood of the Lamb. The God who spoke the universe into existence, who breathed life into Adam, who stretched out the heavens and the necks of giraffes, has looked down, taken our hand in His, and said, "Yep, she's Mine." Even though we're crippled, we have been royally adopted by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are listed as His next of kin. Our names are written on His hands and in His book of life. His love for us is based on His character, not our performance. And it is greater than we could ever hope for or imagine.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
Blessed are the desperate.
1. What embarrassing motives in your heart have been exposed recently?
2. What do you think your response would have been if you were Mephibosheth and you were summoned to the king's palace?
3. Can you remember a time when you sensed God looking down with tenderness and mercy, taking your hand in His, and saying, "Yep, she's Mine"?
4. Read Ephesians 1:3-14. Read it again, out loud, and substitute your first name every time the word "us" appears (i.e., "God had adopted Lisa . . .").