WEEK 39 — September 30, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 39

 

John on Patmos

 

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.                               On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet. Revelation 1:9-10

It makes you stop and think when you move from being the youngest to being the oldest. My dad was the littlest brother in a large family. I can still remember his rueful surprise one day when he realized that not only had he outlived all of his siblings: He was also the last one left among his entire generation of first cousins.

Perhaps you have experienced this fateful transition — in a family, in a circle of friends, in some other group. John the Beloved Disciple experienced it two thousand years ago. Ancient tradition tells us that John was the youngest of the Apostles; when he and Peter raced to the empty tomb, young John easily forged ahead, but in the uncertainty of youth he held back and let Peter go in first (John 20:3-7). Equally strong tradition tells us that John outlived all the rest, surviving to a great age as the only one of the Twelve to escape a martyr’s death. He did, however, suffer banishment on the barren Mediterranean Isle of Patmos.

What must it have felt like to be the last leaf on the tree? No doubt John cherished many memories. No doubt he yearned to join his Master, his brother, his brother-Apostles, and all their friends in heaven.

The verses quoted above indicate that even in his long exile the lonely old man still kept count of the days so he could observe a special time of worship on the Lord’s Day. The Bible-based poetic meditation that follows is an imaginative reconstruction of what might have been going through old John’s mind on a certain never-to-be-forgotten Sunday two thousand years ago.

                    I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.
                    I remember still a different Lord’s Day:
                               racing to the tomb with Simon Peter
                     early in the morning on that first day.

                    Every first day since, has been the Lord’s Day;
                    thus we keep the sabbath in our own way.
                               Ever since the coming of the Spirit,
                    I’ve been listening: What will he, my Lord, say?

                    Week by week I’ve kept the Lord’s Day holy.
                     Year by year my feet have moved more slowly.
                               How I’ve yearned to see and hear my Master!
                     Then . . . he came — my Lord who owns me wholly.

                    Never have I heard his voice so clearly,
                    never felt his presence come so near me,
                               as in exile on the isle of Patmos:
                    There he stood, the One who loves me dearly.

                    This is what I’ve learned (though still I’m learning):
                     Keep the Lord’s Day. Keep your passion burning.
                               Keep on living in his Holy Spirit.
                     He will come to those whose hearts are yearning!

Help me, O God, to stay as faithful as John was, “through life’s long path . . . from youth to age” [Edward H. Plumptre, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart”; in the public domain]. Help me remember to keep the Lord’s Day holy and to keep on living in Your Spirit’s power. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 38 — September 23, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 38

 

Be Sensible, O Lord! : Ananias of Damascus

 

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go!”
Acts 9:13-15a

Has the Lord ever told you to do something that didn’t make any sense?

Four thousand years ago there was a certain man who had that kind of experience. In fact, he had it more than once.

His name? Abraham.

First, God told Abraham to leave everything and everybody he had ever known, to go out without knowing where he was going. Then again, after faithful Abraham had followed the Lord’s providential leading for many long years, there came yet another unbelievable, nonsensical command: to slay as a sacrifice his only legitimate child, his Isaac, his long-awaited son of the promise.

Two thousand years ago there was also another man who had that same kind of experience.

His name? Ananias of Damascus.

Actually we know very little about Ananias, compared to how much we know about Abraham. The Bible only tells us two things about Ananias: that he was a disciple, and that he was in Damascus. But — like the other believers in Damascus — Ananias had heard the bad news from Jerusalem . . . news about the martyrdom of Stephen, news about a fierce wave of persecution being led by a young Pharisee named Saul. He had even heard that this premier persecutor had been dispatched to Damascus, to further pursue the faithful there.

Then in a vision God called Ananias by name. God ordered Ananias to do something that didn’t make any sense. God told him to go and find the man whose very name must have aroused the same sort of fear and horror that people of more recent times have felt upon hearing a name like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden.

Probably Ananias was in hiding, along with the other Christians of Damascus, because of the warnings they had received. And now God was telling Ananias to reveal himself, to turn himself in to the dreaded Saul of Tarsus! God even told Ananias exactly where to find Saul, and exactly what Saul was doing.

The verses quoted above state that Ananias did not immediately agree to do what God was so nonsensically telling him to so. First he argued with God. He pointed out a few things that he thought God ought to be made aware of. He urged God to take certain matters into account.

At the end of the day, however, Ananias did exactly what he had been commanded to do, . . . as little sense as it seemed to make to his human understanding. He found Saul, laid gentle hands upon him, and called him “Brother.”

The result? Ananias was privileged to play a major role in the early stages of a remarkable transformation: Saul of Tarsus, chief among the persecutors, became Paul the Apostle, the greatest Christian missionary in the history of the world!

The following Scriptural meditation in poetic form expands a bit on that first startled reaction when God spoke through a vision to a man named Ananias of Damascus. As you read it, ask yourself: When the Lord gives me a command, do I sometimes argue about obeying it?

Be sensible, O Lord!
You see, I know about this man,
for I’ve heard all about his plan.
He’s come to spy on all the brothers,
sisters, too, and all the others.

Be sensible, O Lord!
He’ll search through every street and lane.
He’ll bind us each one with a chain.
He’ll send us to Jerusalem,
where priests stand ready to condemn.

Be sensible, O Lord!
What’s that You say? You say he prays?
He’s blinded? Waiting these three days?
Expecting me? He knows my name?
Well, well, that’s different. All the same, . . .

Be sensible, O Lord!
The risk is awfully great, You know . . . .
What’s that? You still say “Go!”?
Enough. I’ll call him “Brother Saul” . . .
though that’s not sensible at all.

O Father God, help me be willing to do whatever you may lay it upon my heart to do. Help me to greet as a brother or a sister whomever you may send me to minister to. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 37 — September 16, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 37

 

My Name Is James bin Zebedee

 

When he [Jesus] had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Mark 1:19-20

Once I heard a well-meaning pastor disagree with a suggestion that teenagers in his church should sometimes be invited to help receive the morning offering. In his reply he said something about the young people needing to “prove themselves first before they are asked to become offering stewards.”

Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t take that approach when calling his disciples? Think about the kinds of people he chose to become his first special followers. The same thing might have been said about them as Paul later said about the believers in Corinth:

“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:26b-29).

In many parts of the world, missionaries have seen some of the strongest followers of Christ arising from among simple folks, country folks, folks with no particular standing in society.

One of the many popular quotations falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln is still worth repeating, regardless of who may have said it first: “God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them.”

James son of Zebedee was one of God’s common people. He was a fisherman, not a finicky debater over fine points of theology. Like most of the world’s people – then and now – he had to labor for his living. His hands were coarse and dirty; he may have been illiterate, or nearly so. Yet Jesus selected both him and his more famous brother to be included in that band of brothers known to us today as the Twelve Apostles. Not only that: James bin Zebedee was in the inner circle; he was sometimes allowed to witness miracles unseen by others.

James was the first among the Apostles to die a martyr’s death. What do you suppose might have been running through the mind of this common man as he lay in Herod’s prison, awaiting execution?

This, perhaps:

My name is James bin Zebedee,
a country boy from Galilee,
a fisherman by trade.
It still seems strange — the sights I’ve seen,
what all I’ve heard, where all I’ve been,
the changes Jesus made.

He found us in our boat that day.
He called, “Come, follow; here’s the Way!”
We followed, John and I.
We’ve seen a lame man stomp his feet.
We’ve seen a dead girl rise and eat.
We’ve seen our Master die.

We’ve seen our Lord alive and well.
We’ve heard his orders: “Go and tell!”
We’ve felt the Spirit’s power.
We’ve joined old friends to preach the Word.
We’ve met new friends who’ve gladly heard —
three thousand in a hour.

But now I lie here prison-bound
because of what King Herod’s found:
Folks like to watch us die.
No matter if I leave the rest;
what Jesus wills for me is best:
We’ll meet again on high!

Thank you, Lord, that the Way of the Christ is not only for the noble and the highborn, but also for commercial fishermen and government revenue agents as well. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 36 — September 9, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 36

 

Peter’s Defense

 

But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:19-20

Generally speaking, Simon Peter was generally speaking.

Again and again in the Four Gospels, it is Peter who speaks for the Twelve. Sometimes he puts a great idea into words; see, for instance, Matthew 16:16-17. At other times he would have done better to keep his mouth shut; see, for instance, Luke 9:33.

The worst example of Peter’s speaking when he shouldn’t, of course, was when he denied three times that he was a follower of Jesus, even denied that he knew who Jesus was. His heartbreak after realizing the terrible thing he had done is still poignant after the passage of twenty centuries; read Matthew 26:75.

Those were dark days for Peter. The good times had ended with the capture and crucifixion of Jesus. To make things worse, Peter had proved himself untrue in the hour of trial. For once in his life, Peter had nothing to say.

Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising that Peter and his friends didn’t believe Mary Magdalene and the other women when they reported that Jesus’ tomb was empty (Luke 24:9-11). Yet Peter still had his native curiosity; he wondered what had really happened (Luke 24:12).

Would Peter have had the nerve to seek out the risen Christ, after having failed him so utterly? We will never know, for Christ took the initiative, first sending a special message to Peter (Mark 16:7), then meeting him face to face (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

That meeting, along with the Great Commission and the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, made all the difference in Peter’s life. His innate loquacity was restored; now he had the greatest thing in the world to talk about!

The verses quoted above tell us what Peter replied when he was ordered to keep silent about Jesus the Christ. The Bible-based poetic meditation that follows offers an imaginative reconstruction of what else Peter might have said in defending himself against hostile authorities:

Into our men-only meeting
Mary of Magdala ran,
startled us all with her greeting
(picture the scene, if you can):

“Joseph’s new tomb has been plundered!
Jesus is gone from the grave!”
So Mary said . . . , yet we wondered:
Had she mistook the wrong cave?

Who could believe what she shouted?
(Mary had once been insane;
are you surprised that we doubted?)
Jesus was dead — that was plain.

Yet we must find out for certain,
separate fiction from fact,
see for ourselves, lift the curtain,
settle the doubts: We must act!

John and I raced; he ran faster,
yet he held back at the door.
I barged in, seeking our Master, . . .
saw only clothes on the floor.

Then I remembered: Why should I
seek to see Jesus once more?
I had denied him! How could I
claim we were friends as before?

Ah! He himself did the seeking —
sought me out, called me by name.
How can I ever stop speaking?
Jesus has set me aflame!

Lord Jesus, let me never stop showing and telling what you have done for me — witnessing to family, to friends, to all the world. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 35 — September 2, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 35

 

I Heard His Voice in Darkness : Lazarus

 

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
John 11:21-23

“If you had been here, . . .” Martha said to Jesus in the verses quoted above. Martha knew how much it means when a loved one is right there with you, not somewhere far away.

Martha was a member of an interesting family. She lived in Bethany near Jerusalem, along with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. John 11:5 specifically states that Jesus loved every member of this non-traditional household.

The Bible seems to indicate that Martha was the head of the house: Luke 10:38 speaks of the village home in Bethany as being hers. Probably this means that Mary and Lazarus were both Martha’s younger siblings.

Do you have a big sister? Like Lazarus, I have been blessed with two of them. When I needed carrying around the house (or thought I did), one of my big sisters was there to tote me on her hip till she became slightly one-sided. (At least she says that’s what caused it.) When I needed help because my little hand was bleeding profusely, my other big sister was there to hurry me upstairs into our mother’s comforting presence.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for another member of the family of faith is just to be there with them. “The ministry of presence,” some people call it. Jesus knew all about the ministry of presence. So did Martha. Why, then, did Jesus not immediately respond when word came from Bethany that Lazarus was sick?

As John Newton put it in his hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” we should

                    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
                    but trust him for his grace.

Jesus did indeed commit himself to a ministry of presence with the family in Bethany. Even though Martha gently reproved him for not coming sooner, yet she also expressed her faith that God would still give Jesus whatever he asked.

How do you suppose it would have felt to be Lazarus when he heard Jesus call his name? Remember, Lazarus was already four days dead, lying on the hard stones of a rocky cave, completely wrapped like a mummy in long strips of cloth as was the custom in that time and place.

I once heard a preacher say, “It’s a good thing Jesus called Lazarus by name: Otherwise all the other dead people would also have risen in response to his command, ‘Come out!’” That may be stretching things a bit. Yet it is a fact that Jesus called Lazarus by name, thus adding a poignant personal touch to his ministry of presence.

Let your imagination put you in the place of Lazarus as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation. Remember, Jesus has promised us, “I am with you always.” Think what his ministry of presence meant to Lazarus. Think what his ministry of presence means to you today.

                    I heard his voice in darkness,
                    my Lord who loved me true:
                               From Galilee
                               he came to me,
                    as true friends ought to do.

                    I heard his voice in darkness,
                    my Lord who loved and gave:
                               “Roll back the rock!
                                It must not block
                    the doorway to the cave!”

                    I heard his voice in darkness:
                     He called me by my name.
                               I felt my bones
                               rise from the stones,
                     and stumbling out I came.

                    I heard his voice in darkness:
                     “Loose him and let him go!”
                               In glad surprise
                               I saw his eyes,
                     my Lord who loved me so!

Thank you, Father, for family and friends who come and embody Your presence when I so sorely need it. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas