WEEK 69 — April 27, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SONS

 

week 69

 

Good Beginnings : John Mark

 

Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.
Acts 15:37-38

John Mark had good beginnings; so did I.

My mother led a group of college women who gathered in our living room for worship, for fun and fellowship, and for learning more about world missions. Often she would bring in missionaries on home assignment to give her girls first-hand information. Once we welcomed into our home Mrs. F. Y. O. Ling, leader of Baptist women’s ministries in China.

It was not only Mother who gave me good beginnings. Daddy was a deacon, and a good one. He was also Sunday School superintendent, volunteer minister of music, and steadfast in his faith.

My two grandmothers and my three older siblings all pointed me in the right direction. A whole series of godly women — most of them humdrum but a few of them blessedly inspired — taught me in Sunday School and other church activities.

I started out in high school as a teacher and leader myself. Christian contemporaries, in college and at summer camps and conferences, set me good examples to follow. Then I married a girl who — like me — was already feeling God’s call toward world missions.

Have I always followed through on my good beginnings?

Sadly, no.

All too often I have disappointed God and left my fellow believers feeling deserted . . . as the Apostle Paul felt deserted when young John Mark went back home to Jerusalem. Paul wasn’t willing to give Mark a second try; Barnabas was, and that marked the end of his partnership with Paul as a missionary team.

Thank the Lord, I serve a God who gives second tries — and third and fourth and fifth. God has forgiven my sins and given me renewed opportunities to serve him, especially through my writings — again, like John Mark, who lived down his failures and became the author of the Second Gospel in our New Testament.

Good beginnings are important. Set your course in early days;
then you’ll never go astray or wander trackless in a maze.

I grew up in church, and surely that’s a good beginning place.
Early followers of Jesus made my mother’s home their base.

Peter? Andrew? Yes, I knew them, heard their stories clearly told:
all they saw and learned of Jesus in those blessed days of old.

Cousin Barnabas from Cyprus joined our congregation’s ranks.
Skilled in all the Laws of Moses, his instruction earned our thanks.

Then the elders sent him northward, sent him to investigate:
Was it true that Gentiles also found their way to heaven’s gate?

Mother sent me northward also. “Help our cousin, Mark,” she said.
So when Barnabas went sailing, I, too, went where he was led.

Good beginnings don’t insure that good will always mark your way.
I went back on what I’d promised, turning homeward one dark day.

God, who gave me good beginnings, gave me, too, a second try.
Have you read the second Gospel? Have you noticed who it’s by?

O Lord of new beginnings, forgive us for the many times we fail You and other members of the family of faith. Restore us and use us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 68 — April 20, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SONS

 

week 68

 

Born Blind

 

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” John 9:24-25

Observing the growing-up years of a person born blind can be an interesting and poignant experience. Our young niece, adopted from Russia when she was tiny, has never been able to see. If she had been born here, American eye surgeons might have been able to save a bit of her vision, but even that isn’t certain.

When she was still a toddler, she would hold out her little fingers, asking, “Let me see it.” We wondered when it would dawn on her that other people could see things in a different way.

Once we overheard a heart-tugging conversation between our niece and a small grandson of the same age. “Can you see with your eyes?” she asked him.

“Yes, I can see with my eyes,” he replied, “except at night when I go to bed; then I close my eyes, and after that I can’t see with my eyes.”

As our niece has gotten older, of course she has kept on learning many ways to compensate and adapt. Even so, it can be a daunting endeavor to try to tell her about things beyond her ken. In speaking with someone born blind, what words would you use to describe a color? a shape too big to be felt? the dome of the sky?

Through the years, the parents of the man whose story is told in the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel must have had many similar experiences. They also experienced the added burden of believing that either they or their son must have been a great sinner, or else he would not have been born with such a great disability. Then one day they had an experience that outdid all the others: Leaders of their community demanded to know, “How is it that your son, who was born blind, now claims that he can see?”

The only answer they could make was, “We don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself” (John 9:21).

The familiar Gospel story includes telling reminders that the man’s comprehension of the world around him had been severely limited, until that never-to-be-forgotten day when his eyes were opened: He did not know who his Healer really was. He didn’t even know whether his Healer was a sinner or not. Yet he did know that he had been healed.

As you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation (and as you re-read John 9:1-41), note that Jesus healed the blindness of the man’s soul as well as the blindness of his eyes.

Has Jesus done the same for you?

The sense of sight — now, how would you relate it
to someone like myself who’s never seen?
And what would be the words you’d use to state it,
if in the dark is where you’d always been?

Being in the dark is all I’ve ever known —
darkness of senses and darkness of soul.
All throughout these years till now I’m fully grown,
“Born blind, a sinner!” — that’s my assigned role.

One day I heard a question: “Now, in this case,
did he or did his parents break the Law?”
Then gentle hands rubbed softly across my face.
I went to wash my eyes, . . . and then, I saw!

At once the darkness of my senses left me,
but still I felt a darkness in my soul.
They asked me questions: “The Healer — who is he?
And where is he? And how were you made whole?”

I didn’t know the answers; I only knew
that though I once was blind, now I could see.
That didn’t satisfy them. All they could do
was close the synagogue to sinful me.

And yet another question was asked of me:
“The Son of Man — do you believe in him?”
I took my turn at questioning: “Who is he?
Help me to believe, for my soul is dim.”

He smiled. “You see the Son of Man before you.
The Son of Man is speaking with you now.”
I cried, “Lord, I believe! I bow before you!”
Light came on inside me: I don’t know how.

Merciful Father, help those of us who have eyes to see, so that we will minister with compassion to those who are blind, either in body or in spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 67 — April 13, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
FAMILY and FRIENDS

 

week 67

 

Do You Love Your Family?

 

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
1 John 4:20-21

Telephone conversations with our children and our grandchildren customarily end with “I love you.” That expression is very dear to me, . . . and I hope it’s more than just a custom.

The Bible gives stark warnings to those who do not love their families. Read again those harsh words just above, quoted from the Apostle John. The Apostle Paul adds, “Let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family. . . . If anyone does not provide for his own, especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:4b, 8).

Jesus himself sternly rebuked people of his day who made use of an obscure Hebrew tradition as a way of evading their responsibility to care for aged parents (Matthew 15:3-9). When my wife and I were working with teenagers in Indonesia, we sometimes had to remind young and immature Christians that following Christ did not give them an excuse for neglecting familial duties.

Jesus also urged us all to forgive an erring brother seven times in one day (Luke 17:3-4), or even seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

The Victorian novelist (and minister) Charles Kingsley put it pretty bluntly:

“Examine yourselves – ask yourselves, each of you. Have I been
a good brother? . . . son? . . . husband? . . . father? . . . . Do I believe
that these plain family relationships are Christ’s sacred appointments? Do I believe that our Lord Jesus was made very man of the substance of His mother, to sanctify these family relations, and claim them as the ordinances of God His Father?” [The exact source for these words is unfortunately not known to me, but surely they are in the public domain; perhaps the quotation used here came from A Diary of Readings, John Baillie, comp., p. 269.]

Prayerfully pose Kingsley’s hard questions to yourself as you read the following Bible-based meditation in poetic form:

Family and friends:
the place where we learn love —
love that bows and bends,
as gentle as a dove.

Jesus was a son;
Mary was his mother.
Neither lived alone,
apart from any other.

Jesus is our friend,
a friend above all others –
love that has no end,
closer than a brother’s.

“IF” – the warning goes,
“you don’t love your brother,
then you’re one of those
who don’t love God, either.”

Friends and family:
we learn of love at home –
love deep as the sea,
and wide as heaven’s dome.

Our loving Heavenly Father, help us all to love one another! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 66 — April 6, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
PASSION / EASTER

 

week 66

 

The Wife of Pontius Pilate

 

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. Matthew 27:19-20

Pontius Pilate shares with Caesar Augustus the dubious distinction of being the only two Roman officials whose names have become well known to Christians through the centuries. Many Christians repeat the name of Pontius Pilate each time we sing or recite one of the old historic creeds. All Christians repeat the name of Caesar Augustus each time we read the familiar Christmas story from Luke chapter 2.

Early in Christian history, the reputation of Pontius Pilate took two opposite turns:

• Certain followers of Christ started repeating a tradition that Pilate later suffered great remorse because he had condemned Jesus to death. Eventually he committed suicide. Several locations in Europe claim to be the place where the despairing Pilate took his own life.
• Other Christians started repeating a tradition that Pilate eventually repented and became a follower of Christ. Even into modern times the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has celebrated a saints’ day honoring both Pilate and his wife.

Pilate’s wife! Now, there’s another story. Neither the suicide of Pilate nor the conversion of Pilate seems to be rooted in any known historical data. But it is a provable fact that Pontius Pilate was married, and that his wife’s name was Procula.

Only once does Procula appear in the Scriptures, in the verses quoted above. Rarely do we have dreams about a person unless we have known that person or have been thinking about that person. Why do you suppose Procula dreamed about Jesus? Why did that dream, according to her own testimony, cause her a great deal of suffering?

No one knows. Matthew only records the fact that Procula tried in vain to keep her husband from giving in to the cries of the crowd. How do you suppose she felt when her plea was ignored? Did she suffer even more when the Man she had come to know through her disturbing dream was stripped, beaten, and led out to be crucified?

Read this Bible-based poetic meditation from the might-have-been thoughts of Pilate’s wife — one of those tantalizing might-have-been characters who appear briefly in the Bible.

A strange place, Judea — so different from Rome.
I didn’t like living there, far from our home.
The people were strange; they had rather face death
than give up their worship. They prayed with each breath,
invoking a deity no one could see.
How strange their religion! How foreign to me!

The strangest of all was a Teacher, a man
who caused great excitement each time he began
to make the sick well, even raise up the dead.
This roused opposition, brought things to a head.
He rode into town with hosannas of praise.
He taught in the Temple for several days.

And then I encountered that Teacher by night;
my dream left me horrified, gasping with fright.
My husband was asked to take over the case.
I sent him word: “Pilate, it isn’t your place
to punish an innocent man. Hear your wife!”
What happened next haunts me each day of my life.

O God, help me and everyone else to make the right answer to that fateful question posed by Governor Pontius Pilate soon after hearing his wife’s warning: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” [Matthew 27:22a]. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 66 — April 6, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
PASSION / EASTER

 

week 66

 

The Wife of Pontius Pilate

 

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. Matthew 27:19-20

Pontius Pilate shares with Caesar Augustus the dubious distinction of being the only two Roman officials whose names have become well known to Christians through the centuries. Many Christians repeat the name of Pontius Pilate each time we sing or recite one of the old historic creeds. All Christians repeat the name of Caesar Augustus each time we read the familiar Christmas story from Luke chapter 2.

Early in Christian history, the reputation of Pontius Pilate took two opposite turns:

• Certain followers of Christ started repeating a tradition that Pilate later suffered great remorse because he had condemned Jesus to death. Eventually he committed suicide. Several locations in Europe claim to be the place where the despairing Pilate took his own life.
• Other Christians started repeating a tradition that Pilate eventually repented and became a follower of Christ. Even into modern times the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has celebrated a saints’ day honoring both Pilate and his wife.

Pilate’s wife! Now, there’s another story. Neither the suicide of Pilate nor the conversion of Pilate seems to be rooted in any known historical data. But it is a provable fact that Pontius Pilate was married, and that his wife’s name was Claudia Procula.

Only once does Procula appear in the Scriptures, in the verses quoted above. Rarely do we have dreams about a person unless we have known that person or have been thinking about that person. Why do you suppose Procula dreamed about Jesus? Why did that dream, according to her own testimony, cause her a great deal of suffering?

No one knows. Matthew only records the fact that Procula tried in vain to keep her husband from giving in to the cries of the crowd. How do you suppose she felt when her plea was ignored? Did she suffer even more when the Man she had come to know through her disturbing dream was stripped, beaten, and led out to be crucified?

Read this Bible-based poetic meditation from the might-have-been thoughts of Pilate’s wife — one of those tantalizing might-have-been characters who appear briefly in the Bible.

A strange place, Judea — so different from Rome.
I didn’t like living there, far from our home.
The people were strange; they had rather face death
than give up their worship. They prayed with each breath,
invoking a deity no one could see.
How strange their religion! How foreign to me!

The strangest of all was a Teacher, a man
who caused great excitement each time he began
to make the sick well, even raise up the dead.
This roused opposition, brought things to a head.
He rode into town with hosannas of praise.
He taught in the Temple for several days.

And then I encountered that Teacher by night;
my dream left me horrified, gasping with fright.
My husband was asked to take over the case.
I sent him word: “Pilate, it isn’t your place
to punish an innocent man. Hear your wife!”
What happened next haunts me each day of my life.

O God, help me and everyone else to make the right answer to that fateful question posed by Pontius Pilate soon after hearing his wife’s warning: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” [Matthew 27:22a]. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas