WEEK 21 — May 27, 2015



week 21


Noah’s New Beginning


Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. . . . Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out . . . . Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. . . . Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
Genesis 6:9; 7:23; 9:20-21

A comic calendar once designated the first two days of the new year like this:
“January 1 — Day for Making New Year’s Resolutions.
“January 2 — Day for Breaking New Year’s Resolutions.”

Maybe most of us feel we can do a little better than that. How often has someone among us — a child, a teenager, even an adult — resolved on January 1 to keep a diary or a daily spiritual journal, and then has kept on writing in it faithfully each day until . . . when? February 1? March 1? May 1?

The problem is, new year’s resolutions just don’t work. The year may be a new year, but the person is still the same old person. It isn’t enough to resolve by sheer willpower to make a new beginning. There needs to be a radical change, a break with the past, a spiritual newness from the inside out.

Noah is among the Bible characters toward whom we are taught to have a generally favorable attitude. Indeed, the Bible says many good things about Noah. If anybody could have made a fresh new start in life, it would seem that Noah could have. After all, didn’t that great flood sweep away all of the old world? Was there any living being left on earth to mar any new beginning that Noah and his family might have been able to make?

The Scriptures are unsparing in the way they show us that even the best among Bible characters were sinful men and women, just as we are. In Noah’s case, he faithfully followed God’s instructions to build and occupy the ark. Once the flood waters had receded, he also followed God’s instructions to be fruitful and multiply.

Strangely enough, it was a type of fruit that marred the fresh new beginning Noah had hoped to make. As so many of us have found out to our sorrow in the years and centuries and millennia since then, God’s good gifts can be so misused as to become a curse instead of a blessing. Case in point: Genesis 9:20-21.

The Bible-based poetic meditation that follows is a sad reminder that good resolutions, even for the best of us, are not good enough. Try seeing things through the eyes of Noah. Then thank God for the life-changing power of Jesus Christ!

                    Would you like to start all over?
                          Wash away the time that’s past?
                    Let me warn you: Think it over.
                          All that newness may not last.

                    All my world was drowned in water;
                          only eight of us came through.
                    Every parent, son, and daughter
                          died, and all the world was new.

                    All those many people perished
                          for their wicked ways, their sins,
                    for the evil that they cherished.
                          Now, with us, new life begins.

                    Ah! My new life’s resolution
                          quickly leaked, and now it’s sunk.
                    What was my great contribution?
                          I made wine and then got drunk.

Help us, O God, to take warning from the story of Noah. Thank You for the life-changing power of Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 20 — May 20, 2015



week 20


The Lamentations of Methuselah


When Enoch was 65, he had a son, Methuselah.  After that, Enoch lived in fellowship with God for another 300 years and had other children.  He lived to be 365 years old.  He spent his life in  fellowship with God, and then he disappeared, because God took him away.  When Methuselah was 187, he had a son, Lamech, and then lived another 782 years.  He had other children and died at the age of 969.                                                                                              Genesis 5:21-27, GNT

One of the standard questions in a quiz based on the Scriptures is: “Who is the oldest man in the Bible?” Some quiz-games might even give you bonus points if you could also specify how long Methuselah lived.

A more subtle question could take the form of a riddle: How can we really say that Methuselah is the oldest man in the Bible, when Methuselah died before his father did? The passage quoted above supplies the answer to that riddle.

Lists of names and ages in those early chapters of the Bible constitute a great riddle in themselves. Why did people live so long in ancient times? Are the numbers the Bible gives for their years intended to be taken literally? Why did their average life-spans gradually decrease through the centuries, so that Adam is credited with 930 years, Abraham with only 175, Moses with only 120, and David with only 70?

Unique in this primal genealogy is the mention of Enoch. The old familiar Bible translation says that “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:27, King James Version). More recent versions, like the one quoted above, tell us that Enoch spent his life in fellowship with God. What a magnificent testimony for a human life!

But coming back to Methuselah: Do the Scriptures mention anything to distinguish him from all the others, except the fact that he happened to be the one who lived the longest?

No. That is his sole and slender claim to fame.

Have you ever known a person who became well-known only because he or she was so old? In a church meeting the preacher once asked whether anyone present could truly say that he loved everybody. With great difficulty an old, old man got to his feet. “I jist love everbody,” he said in his cracked voice.

“Dear brother, please tell us how it is that you have reached such an exalted plane of universal love,” the preacher asked.

“Wal,” said the old man, “all them folks what done me dirt, all them low-down snakes-in-the-grass, . . .” He stopped and cackled with glee. “They’s all dead! I done outlived ever last one of ‘em! An’ so now I jist love everbody.”

Sometimes a touch of wry humor can help us meditate on important Scriptural truths. In an attitude that might be called “holy levity,” read and ponder these imaginary lamentations from the mind of old Methuselah.

          I’m learning there’s one thing that’s bad
          about living for nine hundred years:
                     You have to make lots of new friends,
                     for every old friend disappears.

          I’ve lived to be old, very old,
          and yet my own father outlived me:
                     His contact with God was so close
                     that he never died, don’t you see.

          O, I’ll be remembered, . . . but only
          for reaching so ancient an age.
                     A heart full of wisdom’s far better,
                     whatever your age or your stage.

O Lord, “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” [Psalm 90:12]. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 19 — May 13, 2015



week 19


Your Servant-Girl, O Lord : Young Mary


And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto to me according to thy word.”
Luke 1:38, King James Version

Two thousand years have passed. The Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus, has been glorified in art, in music, in popular piety. How can we get back to who and what Mary of Galilee actually was, on that terrifying day when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her?

For one thing, she was likely very young — probably a teenager. There are many teenage mothers in our own day. A doctor friend of ours once told us she had decided against specializing in obstetrics because she was so tired of helping “children having children.”

How do you suppose the angel appeared to this particular teenage girl in rural Galilee? Such a celestial vision could hardly have been conducive to her peace of mind. The Bible tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” at what the angel proceeded to tell her (Luke 1:29). As a matter of fact, she was probably experiencing sheer terror. Perhaps it’s a wonder that she could even collect her wits enough to ask a question.

“How can this be?” she plaintively wondered aloud. Mary knew she was a good girl; she knew she had never played around with boys to the point of losing her virginity.

Gabriel went on to answer her question, . . . if it was enough of an answer merely to say: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Mary didn’t ask any more questions. Instead she made a statement that is breathtaking in its simplicity and inclusiveness. That statement appears in the verse quoted above. It has also been paraphrased in the Bible-based poetic meditation which follows.

                           “Your servant-girl, O Lord.”
                I believe that’s what I’ve always been —
                eager to obey God, slow to sin,
                listening when the rabbi reads the Word,
                trying to remember all I’ve heard.

                          “Your servant-girl, O Lord.”                       
                I believe God gave me Joseph’s love.                                             
                Marriage is a gift from God above.

               Will we have a son or daughter first?
                Either would be loved and gently nursed.

                          “Your servant-girl, O Lord.”
                Never was that statement hard to say . . .
                until an angel spoke to me today.
                How can I explain and be believed?
                Gentle Joseph will be shocked and grieved.
                Other people . . . will they cast me out?
                Will they frown and look at me in doubt?

               Still the habit of a lifetime stands.
               Come what may, I still am in God’s hands:
                          “Your servant-girl, O Lord.”

Thank you, God, for giving young Mary the strength of heart and
soul and body to willingly be included in Your great purpose of redemption. Help each one of Your children today to feel and express a similar willingness. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 18 — May 6, 2015



week 18


Jephthah’s Daughter


When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched.”
Judges 11:34-35a

Children of Christian workers – Preachers’ Kids, Missionary Kids, and others as well – may inherit a mixed blessing. Do you remember the old saw about the Preacher’s Kid being the worst boy on the block? The proper rejoinder to that is, “Yeah, it’s because he only has the deacons’ kids to play with!”

I grew up as a deacon’s kid. My two sons grew up as MKs (Missionary Kids); now my two grandsons are experiencing the same. There are many wonderful blessings in having dedicated Christian workers for your parents. They can teach you things other parents can’t. They can show you by example what it means to be sold out for God.

Yet . . . there may be another side to it. All parents make mistakes, including parents who are Christian leaders. Sometimes a father’s devotion to God may cause him to neglect his own son. Sometimes a mother’s diligence to do the Lord’s work may cause her to overlook the needs of her daughter.

Recently I read two of the saddest books I can remember. One purported to be fiction and the other autobiography; both of them showed the darker side of growing up in a missionary family. The mother of one of these two MK authors has been quoted as saying she had never read her son’s books, fearing it would break her heart if she did so. I think it would break mine as well, if one of our sons had perceived — and then written about — such a warped view of his parents and what they were seeking to do.

The strange story of Jephthah’s daughter is found in the Book of Judges. Jephthah rose from humble origins to become the leader of the Israelites. In his quest for military victory, he made what is surely the most foolish vow in all of Scripture: He promised to sacrifice to God whatever first came out to meet him as he returned in triumph.

Did it never cross his mind that his only child, a daughter, might be caught in this deadly web?

Once it had happened, the daughter was an obedient child. She meekly agreed that she must be offered up on the altar. Her only request was for a two-month stay of execution so she could “roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry” (Judges 11:37).

The Bible-based poetic meditation that follows has been written from the viewpoint of Jephthah’s doomed daughter. She reflects on her family’s tangled history and on her own unique relationship with her father. She waits for his return from battle. Then, suspecting nothing but a joyful reunion, she hurries out to greet her father.

          My father rarely spoke with me
                     about his early life;
           only in stages did I learn
                     his youth was marred by strife.

          My father’s father’s roving eye
                     sought women more than one.
           His wife gave birth to many sons, . . .
                     yet there was one more son.

          My father was that extra boy:
                     His mother was a whore.
           One day his brothers cried, “Get out!
                     No place here any more!”

          My father fled his brothers’ wrath,
                     yet he was not alone:
           He formed a band of followers
                     who fought with bow and stone.

           My father came into his own
                     when foes attacked our land.
           The councilors of Gilead
                     invited Jephthah’s band.

           My father thus became our chief,
                     to guard against our foes:
           Whenever Ammonites attack,
                     to war my father goes.

          My father must have hoped (I’m sure)
                     to get a sturdy son.
           And yet – of sons he’s gotten none,
                     of daughters only one.

          My father loves me tenderly,
                     although I’m not a boy.
           He gives me anything I ask –
                     a robe, a flute, a toy.

          My father’s coming home today!
                     With songs and dances choice,
           with tambourines, I’ll welcome him.
                     He’ll see me and rejoice.

O Father God, grant grace and wisdom to all parents – especially to those who serve as leaders in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas