WEEK 4 — January 28, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 4

 

Old Sarah Reminisces

 

Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
Genesis 18:12-14

I’ve known a few people for whom childlessness was a choice. I’ve known many more for whom childlessness was a curse . . . or to say the least, a great disappointment.

One of my sisters did not conceive as quickly as some young married women do. I remember her speaking feelingly of meeting old classmates with their babies who pointedly asked, “And what’s the matter with you, Mary Frances?” Later on my sister was blessed with four children, many grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.

Yet not all would-be mothers are so blessed: Some of them go through life without ever bearing a child, perhaps without ever conceiving. How often do you think they must feel out of place among women who talk of teething and diapers, of school lunches and field trips?

Sarah must have known that kind of heartbreak – many times, through the years and even through the decades. She tried to find surrogate sons: first her husband’s nephew, then the child of her maidservant. But nothing could fill the void in her life.

However we may interpret the number of years stated in the Book of Genesis for the ages of Sarai/Sarah and of her husband Abram/Abraham, it is clear that Sarah considered herself to be, and others also considered her to be, well past the age of childbearing.

My wife had only one brother, 18 months older, and only one sister, 18 years younger. What a surprise that younger sister was . . . and how much joy and excitement she has brought into our family!

Old Sarah must have felt something of that same kind of disbelieving joy when she laughed at the prophetic words saying that she would finally bear a son. Reread the story in chapters 16, 17, 18, and 21 of Genesis. Then as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, recall the searching question posed in Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Haran, my Abram’s brother,
died young but left an heir.
I’d borne Abram no other;
we took Lot in our care.
I looked at Lot with longing;
I wished he were my son.
(The memories come thronging
when life is nearly done.)

Each time I’d see a baby,
I’d feel new hope, new joy:
Next year, next season, maybe
I too would nurse a boy.
It’s hard when human hope fades
as years pass one by one.
The years stretched into decades, . . .
and still I had no son.

At first I thought my handmaid
could take my place in bed;
the child she bore would be laid
upon my lap instead.
And yet . . . should Hagar’s offspring
usurp the place of mine?
That’s why I sent her wandering;
she’ll not spawn Abram’s line!

Strange visitors seemed certain
that I would bear a child.
I laughed behind the curtain
at prophecies so wild.
But now . . . it seems I’m feeling
a stirring in my womb.
Is God at last revealing
from barren soil a bloom?

Suit a special blessing, O Lord, both to parents and to those who are childless. Help all of us to know that each one of us can be included in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 3 — January 21, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SINGLES

 

week 3

 

Eighteen Weary Years: The Little Old Lady

 

“Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the sabbath day from what bound her?” Luke 13:10

 

The Bible does not use the words “little” or “old” in describing a certain woman whom Jesus healed on a never-to-be-forgotten sabbath day. The Bible does tell us (in Luke 13:11) that the woman had been bent over for 18 years and was unable to stand up straight. Whatever her stature might originally have been, this long-term condition in itself would surely have made her look “little” in comparison to others. As to “old,” she could hardly have been a dewy-eyed maiden if she had already suffered such an affliction for nearly two decades.

There are other reasons for using “The Little Old Lady” as the title above. Robbie Trent, a friend and mentor who has long since gone to be with the Lord, once wrote a children’s book based on the healing described in Luke chapter 13, and she entitled it The Little Old Lady.

And then there’s Annabel, who for many years was a member of our church. Annabel is badly bent over from osteoporosis. She has to make a special effort to look you in the face. Yet she makes that effort often, for she was one of the brightest and most cheerful of all those we would meet on a Sunday morning. Far advanced in years, Annabel still has a keen mind. In our small group we used to delight in hearing her prayers – for our missionary son, among many others.

The Scriptural story of the woman who had been bent over for 18 weary years also brings to mind another story: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, popular reading for Christians of an earlier generation. One of the characters in this novel is a young woman, a radiant believer whom Jesus has healed. The interesting thing is, he didn’t heal her twisted body, but rather, her soul and spirit that had become twisted with bitterness and self-pity.

Divine healing can take many forms. It is not always complete. In our own day Joni Eareckson Tada has not experienced physical healing, yet the Lord has blessed her and blessed many others through her.

Why are some people healed from physical ailments and others aren’t? I don’t know, . . . but in the case of the little old lady who had been bent over for 18 weary years, there are several clues:

• Jesus met her at a worship service. Despite her physical infirmity, she still made the effort to join in with God’s People at God’s House.

• Once she had been healed, the little old lady immediately praised God.

• This remarkable healing provided a teachable moment, when Jesus could explain that people are always more important than rules. If you’ve forgotten that part of the story, read Luke 13:14-17.

Now prayerfully read the following Scriptural meditation . . . and think about the little old ladies whom you may know:

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Never standing straight,
       bent into a round,
          dragging crippled weight,
             eyes turned toward the ground.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Always looking down.
       All along the street,
          all around the town,
             all I see is feet.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Many a weary mile.
       Never once have I
          seen a friendly smile,
               seen the wide blue sky.

Eighteen weary years . . .
Days and seasons wane.
       Yet I never change —
          body bent in pain;
             does it not seem strange?

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Sabbaths come and go.
       To the house of prayer
          tottering I go,
             seeking comfort there.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Now I hear a Voice:
       “Woman, you are free!
          Praise God and rejoice!
             Lift your eyes and see!”

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Now I celebrate:
       “Neighbors, look at me!
          See? I’m standing straight!
             Jesus set me free!”

O Great Physician, we thank you for this healing; O Master Teacher, we thank you for the teaching it brought forth. Heal us, we pray, and teach us how to be channels of healing for others in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 2 — January 14, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SINGLES

 

week 2

 

“Fire in My Bones!” : Jeremiah the Prophet

Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:8-9

Jeremiah the Prophet may not have been a physical ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth, but he was surely a spiritual ancestor. When Jesus asked his disciples to tell him who the crowds thought he was, the disciples named three prophets of the past. All three of them had rather fiery personalities: Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.

Too easily we over-emphasize the sweet side of Jesus: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Yes, he was all of these. Yet he was also the one who said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). That sounds like something Jeremiah might have said.

Spiritual descendants were actually the only kind Jeremiah ever had: God specifically forbade him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:1-2). That’s why the fiery prophet has been included along with other “Singles” in this section of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.

The Book of Jeremiah is one of the most interesting parts of the Bible. It contains many personal anecdotes, many gripping narratives. Yet it is sometimes passed over in our Bible reading because it is not arranged in chronological order. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure what’s going on, because time and place and circumstance seem to skip around from chapter to chapter.

The Bible-based meditation that follows has deliberately been written with robust, rolling rhythms like an old-time ballad. It seeks to pull together several of the striking events in the life of Jeremiah. As you read, note how strongly Jeremiah stood up for the Lord and for the Lord’s message — even when that message was unpleasant to hear, even when people persisted in punishing the messenger. (Remember that not everything our Lord Jesus said was pleasant to hear, either; nor was it always peacefully received.)

After reading this Bible-based poetic meditation, maybe you’ll be ready to get out a commentary or other aid to Bible study so that you can re-read the Book of Jeremiah itself with clearer understanding. (If you wish to read in order the parts of Jeremiah on which this meditation has been based, here is a list of chapter and verse references: Jeremiah 20:7-9; 1:4-6; 1:17-19; 1:7-10; 20:1-6; 38:1-6; 36:17-23; 36:4-8; 36:17-23; 11:19-23; 38:14-28; 38:1-6; 38:7-13; 20:7.)

Fire in my bones!
Fire in my bones!
God’s message burns like a fire in my bones.
Priests in their pride,
kings on their thrones,
none can extinguish the fire in my bones!

Called in my youth! Called to speak truth!
How can I speak when I’m only a youth?
When first I heard
God’s burning word,
God said, “Be bold! You will trumpet my truth!”

God’s hand reached out and put words on my tongue.
I could not speak them, for I was too young.
“That’s no excuse!” cried the voice of the Lord.
“Go where I send you! Speak boldly my word!”

Priests tried to silence me. Thrown in the stocks,
beaten and sore, my feet fastened with locks,
still I delivered the warning I’d heard:
“Death and destruction for spurning God’s word!”

Everyone mocks! Locked in the stocks!
Why be a prophet when everyone mocks?
Yet still I heard
God’s burning word:
“Speak what I say, even there in the stocks!”

Once when the king gave my enemies leave,
down in a mud-hole they left me to grieve.
Once when my words were inscribed on a scroll,
would the king heed? No, he burned up the roll.

Shut in my house! Trapped like a mouse!
I’ll send Baruch in my place to God’s House.
Still the Lord’s word
burns to be heard,
though burnt to ash by the king in his house.

Even the priests of my own native town
plotted to kill me, but I faced them down.
Once the king quizzed me in secret. I pled,
“How can I hide what the Lord God has said?”

Thrown in a pit! Left there to sit!
What is my wrong? What sin did I commit?
God’s burning word
still must be heard,
though muck and mire choke me down in this pit.

Saved by a slave! God can still save!
Pulled from the pit by the hands of a slave!
Still burns the word –
loud though unheard:
“Death and captivity! God will not save!”

Fire in my bones!
Fire in my bones!
God’s message burns like a fire in my bones.
Priests in their pride,
kings on their thrones,
none can extinguish the fire in my bones!

My loving Lord, if there is someone — in my own family or in the wider family of faith — whose fiery or uncomfortable words I need to hear, O give me the grace to listen! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 1 — January 7, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
FAMILY and FRIENDS

 

week 1

 

From Such as These Christ Jesus Came

 

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar . . . . David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.
Matthew 1:1-3a, 6

Through the years, through the centuries, Christians have struggled with the idea that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Perhaps we’ve grown used to knowing or hearing about people who deny the divinity of Jesus. Yet historically speaking, an equally hurtful heresy has been to deny the humanity of Jesus. Even in New Testament times there were those who denied “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2-3).

How could it be that the eternal Word, the incarnate Son of God, the Savior of the world, could also have become a fully functional human being? We shrink back from thinking that Jesus knew all the struggles, all the ordinary things, all the daily drabness that we experience. How can we hold steadily in our minds the blessed truth that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine?

One way to do this is to turn now and then to the Book of Hebrews and remind ourselves that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Another way to do this is to make a careful study of Jesus’ earthly ancestry.

The first chapter of the first book in the Bible begins with the magnificent sweep of creation. The first chapter of the first book in the New Testament begins with a list of names – a genealogy, a family tree.

Who were Jesus’ ancestors, humanly speaking? What kind of people were they? If we could have known them personally, would we have judged that all of them were worthy to be included in the human heredity of our Lord and Savior?

Many of Jesus’ ancestors were indeed good people, . . . but they weren’t all good, and even the better ones weren’t good all the time. Many of them did and said things that seem strangely out of character with the Sinless One who would become their earthly descendant. Some of them broke one or more of the Ten Commandments – even “You shall not commit murder” and “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:13-14).

A variant version of Jesus’ family tree is given in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and it traces his genealogy all the way back to Adam. Is this intended as a way of linking Jesus with the entire human race? Do you find it hard to think of our gentle and loving Lord Jesus as being related to Attila the Hun? to Tamerlane? to Adolf Hitler? to Joseph Stalin? to Osama bin Laden?

As you work your way through this series of Bible-based meditations, you will hear the voices of many of Jesus’ earthly ancestors. In addition you will hear the voices of other Bible characters, including several of Jesus’ contemporaries and several of his first followers (who were also his distant relatives, according to Luke’s genealogy). You may well be surprised to note many similarities with people of today. And you may well find these people to be people much like yourself. (Perhaps “For Such as These Christ Jesus Came” or “To Such as These Christ Jesus Came” would have made a good title for this devotional, too.)

Begin by reading the following poetic meditation about the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah considered as a group. Remind yourself that for your sake and mine, for your salvation and mine, the eternal Son of God was willing to become a human being, willing to live among other human beings, willing — like them and like us — to be bound by time and place.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
             Abraham, Sarah,
                Isaac, Rebekah,
                   Jacob and Leah,
                      Tamar and Judah,
      Rahab and Ruth and great David the king,
      who toppled Goliath with brook-stone and sling:
             Monarchs and patriarchs, women of faith
             who loved God and trusted Him, faithful till death.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
             Sarah and Abraham, tellers of lies;
             blind Isaac got an unwelcome surprise:
                 Rebekah and Jacob kept from him the truth;
                 Rahab, a prostitute; and then there was Ruth,
                       native of Moab, where idols were known;
                       David, who waded through blood to the throne,
                       killed a man, took the man’s wife as his own;

Leah and Tamar got husbands by stealth;
Jacob by trickery built up his wealth;
             Judah first plotted to kill his own brother,
             then to enslave him; that’s worse than the other.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
who knew no sin, yet suffered shame
             to save all folk of sinful birth —
             all born, like him, on sinful earth.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for making Jesus “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

INTRODUCTION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS
on FAMILY and FRIENDS

 

A Two-Year Series of
Bible-Based Devotional Thoughts

by Perry Thomas

 

Aids to the devotional life come in all types and topics, all shapes and sizes. What’s so special about this two-year series of devotional messages?

Two obvious things:
• First of all, it’s free for the downloading, rather than being published with a price tag.
• Also, it has been arranged week by week rather than day by day. (Don’t you sometimes need a spiritual lift between Sundays? Isn’t that why we used to have midweek prayer meetings?)

Something else that’s different:
• These MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS are written partly in prose and partly in poetry.
• Other distinctive features include a special focus on Jesus’ earthly ancestors, and on women and girls in the Bible.

Are you allergic to poetry? Have you ever been bored or puzzled by poetry in the past? Do you tend to think that any poem on a religious theme is likely to be either too obvious or too obscure, or else it’s likely to be suitable only for use as the clincher in a sermon?

Maybe this two-year series of devotional thoughts entitled MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS can help you take a new and fresh look. Many spiritual truths are indeed best expressed in prose; others seem to demand the medium of poetry.

The 104 poems included in these two years of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS are not long or obscure. They are direct and down to earth — even conversational in tone. Often they have been put into the mouths of familiar (and not-so-familiar) Bible characters.

All of them have been written with rhyme and meter, in a variety of traditional styles. Some of them deliberately echo the sound and cadence of old-time ballads.

Each Bible-based meditation in poetic form has been
prefaced with a brief Scriptural quotation and a brief prose
section offering commentary or explanation relating to the quoted Bible verse or verses. Some of the present-day incidents related in these prose sections use changed names, but all of the stories are true. After the Bible-based poetic meditation, each devotional thought then ends with a brief suggested prayer.

If you printed it out, each week’s devotional thought in these two full years of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS would average less than three pages — just long enough for a few quiet moments of personal devotion.

Notice how the over-all title FAMILY and FRIENDS also fits with week 1 of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS, the devotional message “From Such as These Christ Jesus Came”:
• Each one of these 104 devotionals grows out of the miraculous incarnation of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who for our sake was willing to become a human being like us – yet without sin.
• Each one of these two years of meditations also speaks of human relationships, of FAMILY and FRIENDS, as highlighted by taking a fresh look at many different Bible characters.

Do you sometimes tend to feel — even subconsciously perhaps — that the great men and women of the Bible were really superhuman? Even though we can read about the all-too-human flaws of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and David, of Peter and Paul, we still somehow suspect that they were made of different stuff than we are.

Yet James 5:17-18 reminds us that “Elijah was a man just like us.” These verses then go on to tell us how God did extraordinary things in response to the prayers of this ordinary man.

Notice that there are several subgroups within this series of devotional thoughts focusing on Bible characters. Over the two-year span, each of the eight quarters begins with one or more general meditations on “Family and Friends.” There are also two seasonal subgroups, “Passion/Easter” and “Advent/Christmas.”

Beyond that, you will find subgroups of devotional thoughts about “Wives and Husbands,” about “Mothers” and “Daughters,” about “Fathers” and “Sons,” about “Sisters” and “Brothers.” Nor do these Scriptural meditations leave out “Singles,” “Grandparents,” or “Enterprising Women.”

The devotional thoughts within each subgroup are arranged in approximate chronological order, according to when the various Bible characters appear in the broad Scriptural narrative. In other words, Old Testament people tend to appear in the earlier part of each subgroup and New Testament people in the later part.

Among the 104 poetic meditations, a good half of them express the thoughts of notable women and girls in the Bible.

An index to all of these subgroups, and to the devotional thoughts placed within each one of them, may be found under the heading MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS: Index. Another index, referencing all of the Bible verses used, has also been included.

You might be interested to know that this is not my first attempt at writing devotional materials. Many of my earlier Scriptural meditations have appeared in such publications as (among others) Adventure, The Upper Room, The Secret Place, Open Windows, Encounter! and Reflections.

How can you gain free access to all of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS on FAMILY and FRIENDS?

The full two-year series will be appearing week by week, from New Year’s 2015 on through Christmas 2016, in the form of a weekly blog. Just go to blog.PerryThomasBooks.com. You may also sign up as a (free) subscriber and receive the current installment by email every week. You may read these Bible-based devotional thoughts online, or you may download and print them out for reading, as you prefer.

How, then, should this series of downloadable devotional thoughts be used?

That’s up to you.

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS could become an aid to private devotionals once a week for two full years (or, once a day over a period of three to four months, if you prefer to wait till the entire series has been made available online).
MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS could be used in a family setting. (Notice carefully, however, that not all of these devotional thoughts are appropriate for children.)
MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS could offer helpful materials for preparing brief devotional messages, or for enriching sermons or Bible lessons that focus on Bible characters. For this third purpose, note the comprehensive index of Bible verses already mentioned above.

However you use this devotional series, remember that the Bible-based poetic lines within it will take on deeper significance if you read them aloud. This is true of any kind of poetry. It is especially true of these poetic meditations, since reading them aloud – even in a whisper – can help you hear again the voices of long-ago men and women, boys and girls.

As you begin to read MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS, remember that the Bible characters featured in this devotional series were much like your own FAMILY and FRIENDS . . . and yet, also remember that “From Such as These Christ Jesus Came.”

And while you’re remembering, . . . please remember that not all of my writings can be offered free of charge, as this two-year devotional series is.

Be sure to visit the websites www.PerryThomasBooks.com and www.ParsonPlacePress.com. Note helpful information about  other writings by the author of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS on FAMILY and FRIENDS.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Unless otherwise stated or marked, all Scripture quotations in this online devotional series have been taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society. “NIV” and “NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society.

Certain Scripture quotations in this online devotional series (marked GNT) have been taken from the GOOD NEWS BIBLE, GOOD NEWS TRANSLATION, Second Edition. Copyright © American Bible Society, 1992. Old Testament Copyright © American Bible Society 1976, 1992. New Testament Copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used by permission of American Bible Society.

Certain Scripture quotations in this online devotional series (marked CEV) have also been taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH VERSION. Copyright © American Bible Society, 1995. Used by permission of American Bible Society.

Other Scripture quotations in this online devotional series are properly credited where used.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas