WEEK 56 — January 27, 2016



week 56


Seth Asks Questions


Cain had to go far from the Lord and live in the Land of Wandering, which is east of Eden. . . . Adam and his wife had another son. They named him Seth, because they said, “God has given us a son to take the place of Abel, who was killed by his brother Cain.”
Genesis 4:16, 25, CEV

Have you ever stopped to consider the hard fact that the very first family told about in the Bible was a dysfunctional family?

Does this say something to you about the wretched state of our sinful human race?

As a youngster, Seth may not have realized at first that he was living in a dysfunctional family. He was born when his parents were about to be past the age of childbearing. When such a child has siblings who are much older (as I did), some people call that youngest child “an afterthought,” or “the caboose on the family train.”

Did Seth know that he was not an only child? Did he know the tragic story of his two older brothers? The Bible gives us no hint as to whether he knew this or not.

When I was a child, my older brother and older sisters knew what had happened to my grandfather. So did my parents, but none of them ever told me. My widowed grandmother found an eager little listener for her many stories about my grandfather’s life, . . . but she never once mentioned his death. I had to grow quite a bit older before I found out that my poor grandfather, like a good many other Americans of his era, felt that he had ruined his own life and the lives of others when the stock market crashed during the Great Depression. As a result, he died by his own hand.

Many families have dark secrets. Many children grow up not knowing the whole story. Was Seth one of those children? The following poetic meditation assumes that he was.

When I was little, my father and mother
never once told me that I had a brother.
Two brothers, actually, named Cain and Abel –
never once mentioned when we sat at table.

Hard-working people, my father and mother –
no one to help them, no strong older brother.
Sometimes I’d glimpse, in their work-weary faces,
memories . . . of what? Other sons? Other places?

They were so old, it seemed I should be older.
That was what prompted me, once I grew bolder:
“Mother,” I asked, “was there never another?
“All those long years, did I once have a brother?”

“Hush, now!” she cautioned me. “Don’t let your father
hear you ask questions, Seth. Don’t be a bother!”
That, of course, caused me to grow more suspicious.
Quietly I sought for a time more auspicious. . . .

Finally I found out – and wished I had waited.
How could a brother by brother be hated?
One lay in blood, there struck down by the other.
One wandered far off . . . and yet he’s my brother.

Have mercy, O Father God, on all members of fractured and dysfunctional families today. May they find their wholeness in our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 55 — January 20, 2016



week 55


My Two Cents’ Worth : The Poor Widow


Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ”I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

“The widow’s mite!”

Have younger generations grown up without knowing that rather old-fashioned Biblical phrase as well as my generation did?

Actually the widow had two mites, for the old King James Version borrowed terms from English coins of 1611 in referring to “two mites, which make a farthing.” Whatever you call them, they weren’t worth much. Yet Jesus called attention to them, not because they made up a very small offering but because they made up a very large one.

Back in the days when I was part of a group writing Sunday School lessons for girls and boys, the person who was assigned this passage would sometimes groan: “But there’s so little of a story to tell!” That is correct; the entire narrative is contained in the four verses quoted above.

Another complaint came from a writer who objected to the large colored picture assigned as an aid to teaching this lesson. The picture showed the poor widow putting in her mite (or her two mites) with one or two small children clinging to her skirts.

“Surely that widow must have been childless,” the dissatisfied lesson writer insisted. “Otherwise she would not have given away ‘all she had to live on.’ Even if she was willing to give up all of her own portion, what mother would have sacrificed the needs of her children?”

Perhaps the lesson writer was correct; you will notice that in this series of devotional thoughts, the poor widow has been included under the subtitle “Singles.” Yet the point of the story is not whether she had any children, but whether she had anything left after giving her two tiny coins. The Gospel record plainly says that she had nothing.

“My two cents’ worth” has become a proverb for expressing one’s own opinion, whether of any value or not. The poor widow whom Jesus praised did not express her two cents’ worth: She gave it – all of it. “Out of her poverty” she “put in everything” she had.

Remember that as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation.

I took my two cents’ worth.
I gave it, and I’m glad.
It wasn’t much to give,
but it was all I had.

I hoped no one would see
my offering was so small,
but Jesus saw, and praised
my gift above them all.

Perhaps you give a lot:
Perhaps you give a dime.
Christ taught the Twelve that day
a lesson for all time:

“Her gift is more,” said he,
“than gifts of greater heft.
It’s not how much you give:
It’s how much you have left.”

O Christ, we Christians who have plenty are so spoiled. We give, but only out of our wealth. Move us to give recklessly, as a certain poor widow in the city of Jerusalem gave on that day so long ago. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 54 — January 13, 2016



week 54


The Prayer of Nehemiah


Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services. . . . Remember me for this also, O my God, and show me mercy according to your great love. . . . Remember me with favor, O my God.
Nehemiah 13:14, 22b, 31b

A few years ago many people got all excited about the prayer of Jabez — a prayer offered up by an obscure Bible character, a prayer that occupies only one verse in the Scriptures (1 Chronicles 4:10). By contrast, the prayer of Nehemiah is a prayer offered up a major Bible character, and its petitions are interspersed throughout an entire chapter; note the excerpts above.

When many of the Hebrew people were living as exiles in Persia (Iran), Nehemiah had the honor of being official cupbearer for the king. Hearing that his fellow Jews in Jerusalem were suffering great hardships, Nehemiah persuaded the king to send him there as governor. In spite of strong opposition, he led a weak, dispirited people to rebuild their city walls. No wonder Nehemiah felt he had reason to remind the Lord of all the good he had done!

One interesting aspect of the story is not directly mentioned in the Bible: More than likely Nehemiah was a eunuch. The same as in many other ancient cultures, the kingly families of Persia felt safer if those who had access to their royal palaces were only those who were disabled from leading a normal sexual life.

What does Nehemiah’s sexual orientation (more likely: his asexual orientation) have to do with a series of devotional thoughts entitled MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS on FAMILY and FRIENDS?

Just this: Single men have their place in the family of faith. Prophetic words say so specifically; see Isaiah 56:3-4. Jesus also spoke these strange but striking words:

“Some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men [case in point: Nehemiah]; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of God. The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:12).

Have you ever known men who have “renounced marriage because of the kingdom of God”? I have. Some of these servants of God have become missionaries in places where a wife and children would be distinct liabilities. Others have served in places where most of their ministerial colleagues were men with families.

I first met one such minister when he was on the staff of a boys’ camp I attended as a teenager. Many years later our paths crossed again when my family and I came home for a few months from our place of service in Indonesia. To my surprise, my old friend had never married. For a quarter of a century he had been serving as senior pastor of a large and prosperous church. A mutual acquaintance told me that his reputation in town was so good that he could have run for mayor any time he chose, and been elected.

“My church members are my family,” that pastor himself said to me. “These people trust me with their children. There’s no higher trust than that.”

There have been others I have known: An elderly single deacon in the rural church I once pastored, for instance. A self-proclaimed “ol’ bach’lor” who served faithfully for several decades as the chief financial officer of a large Christian organization.

Not long ago I watched a video lecture in which John Piper answered a man who tried to excuse his loose lifestyle by claiming that a life without some sort of sexual experience is an incomplete life. Piper referred to Jesus as being the most completely integrated personality in all of human history . . . and yet Jesus lived his earthly life as a celibate male.

Perhaps a reverent reading of this Bible-based poetic reinterpretation of Nehemiah’s story and prayer can help us remember not to overlook single men in the family of faith.

Cupbearer I, of noble line;
I brought the king his cup of wine;
he asked what hidden pain was mine.
Remember me, O God.
I told the king, “My native land
has suffered from an alien hand;
its city walls no longer stand.”
Remember me, O God.

The king replied: “Go quickly there!
Rebuild the walls! Renew, repair,
and make the city strong and fair!”
Remember me, O God.
Due westward then I made my way
where city walls in ruins lay;
I traveled many a weary day.
Remember me, O God.

The people gathered at my call.
I gave assignments to them all;
I set them working on the wall.
Remember me, O God.
I foiled the plots of foe and spy.
I kept the trumpeter nearby
to warn of danger lurking nigh.
Remember me, O God.

We worked from dawn till dark of night.
We worked with weapons kept in sight.
We labored still when stars shone bright.
Remember me, O God.
We labored two-and-fifty days,
the walls to build, the gates to raise.
We did it all: To God be praise!
Remember me, O God.

Thank you, Lord, for single men in the family of faith. Prosper their ministries and bless them with spiritual kin. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 53 – January 6, 2016



week 53


Sisters and Brothers of Jesus


Jesus said: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

For many centuries Christians have had differences of opinion concerning the sisters and brothers of Jesus.

It is beyond controversy that there were such persons: Mark 6:3 specifically mentions at least six individuals – and even names four of them – who during Jesus’ earthly lifetime were well-known in Nazareth as his sisters and brothers. Of course a more precise description would be “half-sisters and half-brothers,” since Jesus had no fleshly father.

Some Christians believe that Joseph was a widower with children when he married Mary. In that case the six (or more) people referred to in the Bible would have been the step-sisters and step-brothers of Jesus.

Other Christians point out that in many cultures the words “sisters and brothers” may refer not to actual siblings but to cousins or other relatives. When we moved to Indonesia, we quickly learned how broad and vague the term saudara may be. It is derived from two Malay words that literally mean “same blood,” and it is often used to refer to a sibling. However it is also used for other kinfolks including those only distantly related, and even for those whose sole relationship is through some affinity group.

However we interpret the New Testament references to the sisters and brothers of Jesus, it is clear that these six (or more) persons had a special relationship with him during his earthly lifetime. Yet that special relationship did not always work out in a positive way.

After Jesus began his public ministry, Mark 3:21 says that his family tried to make him come back home to Nazareth because they thought he was out of his mind. John 7:5 plainly states that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him.

Of course all of that changed later. After the Resurrection, Acts 1:14 mentions Mary by name and also includes the brothers of Jesus among the group of believers who gathered in the Upper Room; no doubt his sisters were there as well.

From earliest times it has been believed that the man called James, who became a Christian leader in Jerusalem and the author of a New Testament letter by that name, was the same James who is called a brother of Jesus.

Yet the most striking reference in Scripture to the sisters and brothers of Jesus does not grow out of any of the facts mentioned above. Jesus himself stated the most striking description of his sisters and brothers.

One day two thousand years ago in Galilee, a messenger arrived with news that the mother and brothers of Jesus wanted to speak with him outside the house. Rather than halting his public ministry at his family’s request, Jesus looked around at those who were listening to his teaching. He asked them a rhetorical question: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then he answered his own question in the words quoted above (see Matthew 12:48-50).

Let those blessed words of Jesus ring in your ears as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

O sisters and brothers of Jesus,
say, how shall we know who you are?
Your birth – was it wondrous as his was,
announced by the light of a star?

O sisters and brothers of Jesus,
did knowing him when he was small
provide some unique revelation,
some knowledge not shared with us all?

O sisters and brothers of Jesus,
what marks like his own do you bear?
And is there a family resemblance?
a characteristic you share?

O sisters and brothers of Jesus,
he marked you himself: “For,” said he,
“if you do the will of my Father,
you’re surely a sibling to me!”

O Heavenly Father, help us to live in such a way that we can be clearly identified as sisters and brothers of Jesus! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas