WEEK 90 — September 21, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 90

 

Simon’s Wife’s Mother

 

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Mark 1:29-31

“Simon’s mother-in-law”!

How many bad jokes have you heard about mothers-in-law?

Actually I prefer the wording of the old King James Version, which refers to the woman in question as “Simon’s wife’s mother.” Even as a child I can remember that this homely little detail impressed me every time I heard or read again the story of that busy sabbath day in Capernaum.

Maybe my early childish impressions were strengthened because I had two grandmothers, and one of them lived with us (or to be more exact, we lived with her). Somehow I never thought of either one of them as being the mother-in-law of one or the other of my parents: They were just Mamaw and Grannie. Since both of my grandfathers had died before I was born, I felt especially blest in getting to know both of my grandmothers.

When my parents were first married, they lived with my father’s mother. Only a few months before I was born, they moved out to a place of their own. Then the sudden tragic death of my mother’s father made it seem necessary that they move again to live with my mother’s grief-stricken mother.

Thus for most of their married lives, my parents lived with one or the other of their mothers-in-law. Both of these grandmothers were dearly loved; both of them were devout followers of Christ; both of them tried to be helpful, tried to make the best of things during their declining years. And yet – I saw first-hand how hard it can be to live in the same house with a mother-in-law.

Did Simon ever resent his mother-in-law’s presence? Was she more of a help in the household, or more of a burden? Apparently there were a lot of people at Simon’s house, for the verses quoted above indicate that his brother Andrew also lived with him.

The following Scriptural meditation assumes that Simon’s wife’s mother was basically a helpful person to have around the house, especially considering the backbreaking work and odd hours that were facts of life for commercial fishermen on Lake Galilee.

My wife and I have had the privilege of viewing the ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum — apparently not the same one where Jesus healed a demon-possessed man one sabbath day, but very likely built over the ruins of an older house of worship. Excavators have also uncovered nearby the ruins of a fisherman’s house and a fisherman’s boat. Could these have been Simon Peter’s? The Bible seems to suggest that Jesus and James and John had only a short walk from the synagogue to get to Simon’s house.

Even though Simon’s mother-in-law may have tried to be as helpful as possible, yet when she fell sick, the care of her must have become an added burden on younger members of the household. This fact, as well as their familial love, must have been the reason why they told Jesus about the sick grandmother. And Jesus promptly healed her.

That evening, after sunset had marked the end of the sacred day of rest and worship, multitudes came to Simon Peter’s doorstep for the healing touch of the Master. Can’t we imagine that the grandmother, her strength miraculously restored, was bustling around the house, keeping the wheels turning during an unusually busy time? Can’t we imagine that she continued to help her busy daughter during those months and years when Simon, now renamed Peter, was out on the road with Jesus and the rest of the Twelve?

As you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, remember – and pray for – all of the grandmothers and mothers-in-law whom you know.

A widow in Galilee
has little to call her own.
But Simon has been like a son to me:
I’ve never felt lost or alone.

My daughter is Simon’s wife.
That means she’s often awake
all hours of the night, for such is their life:
They harvest the fish of the lake.

So when she is tired, I try
to keep the children away.
I sweep and I cook; I croon lullaby,
to help her get through the long day.

The sabbath’s our day of rest.
We go to the synagogue.
But one week a fever burned in my breast;
I sweated and moaned in a fog.

And then I felt a strong clasp –
firm fingers enfolding my hand.
My fever and pain all fled from that grasp
as though by God’s own command.

I’m up! I serve as before!
Our Simon has a new name!
I’ve learned that when Jesus comes in the door,
a household is never the same.

O loving God, in Your mercy bless all grandparents and parents-in-law — those who are helpful and those who need help. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 89 — September 14, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 89

 

Old Folks at the Temple

 

There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. . . . It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. . . . There was also a prophetess, Anna . . . . She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
Luke 2:25a, 26-27a, 36a, 37b

A favorite hymn at Christmas time is James Montgomery’s “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Yet many carol-singers have no clear knowledge about the two people to whom these words refer:

“Saints before the altar bending,
watching long in hope and fear,
suddenly the Lord, descending,
in his temple shall appear.”

Do you remember Simeon and Anna, those two “Old Folks at the Temple”?

Actually we know very little about Simeon and Anna. The only place they are mentioned in Scripture is in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We generally assume that Simeon was an old man (ancient tradition says he was 113!), but the Bible does not plainly tell us so. It does, however, say that he was only waiting for one more thing to happen before he died.

On the other hand, we know for sure that Anna the Prophetess was an old woman. In the original Greek language, Luke 2:36-37 can be understood two ways: Either Anna was 84 years old, or else she had gotten married, had lived with her husband for seven years, and then had lived on as a widow for another 84 years. In the latter case, how old would she have been? Surely well over a hundred!

Why did these two old folks haunt the courts of the temple in Jerusalem? Because they were waiting for a great event to happen — an event that had been promised to God’s People in the striking prophetic words from the King James Version so beautifully set to music in Handel’s Messiah:

“The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire” (Malachi 4:1-2).

When this stirring prophetic promise was at last fulfilled, we might have hoped that many people would have been on hand to witness it. Yet such was not the case. There were only two: One old man and one old woman.

At least one of those two old folks in the temple had been given a further divine promise: “that he should not see death” (Luke 2:26, King James Version) before he had seen Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled. But how was this promise to be fulfilled?

Judging from Malachi’s stirring words, Simeon and Anna might well have expected the coming of the Lord’s Christ into his temple to be something quite different from what they actually witnessed. Yet they were both so closely in tune with the Spirit of God that they recognized the great event when it happened.

Simeon was even moved by the Spirit to speak some prophetic words of his own. A portion of what he said that day has been sung by Christians through the centuries, sometimes in Latin as the Nunc Dimittis.

Reread Simeon’s rhythmic prophecy in Luke 2:28-35. Then read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

                            SIMEON:

I thought he’d come in bright array,
a mighty king with all his train.
Instead, He came a Babe that day –
his parents poor, his raiment plain.
And yet . . . I knew him right away.
I sensed my lifelong watch was done,
when one young family came to pray
and dedicate a firstborn Son.

                          ANNA:

I thought he’d speak in trumpet tones,
announce the great and dreadful Day.
Instead, he murmured baby moans
while on his mother’s lap he lay.
And yet . . . I recognized his face.
I stood – as always – near the door,
when three came to the Holy Place
with doves, the offering of the poor.

                         SIMEON:

I thought he’d wield a mighty sword,
God’s herald in the Holy Place.
Instead, he brought God’s love outpoured,
salvation for our sinful race.
And yet . . . I knew he was the One.
I knew then what my waiting meant.
Lord, let me go! My race is run.
I’ve seen Your Christ; I die content.

O Spirit of God, how blest are all of us who, like old Simeon, do not see death before we see – in our spirits, not with our earthly eyes – the Lord’s Christ! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 88 — September 7, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 88

 

Joash Makes a Dark Discovery

 

The king then took his place on the royal throne, and all the people of the land rejoiced. And the city was quiet, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword at the palace. Joash was seven years old when he began to reign. 2 Kings 11:19-21

Have you ever made a dark discovery about someone? especially someone in your family or among your friends?

The first pastor I can ever remember was a white-maned backwoods prophet with a saintly demeanor. I loved him; I called him “Papa Sumner.” When my oldest sister got married, Brother Sumner performed the ceremony. When I finished high school, Brother Sumner wrote me a letter which I kept and cherished. Not long after that, old Brother Sumner went to be with the Lord, full of years and honors.

It must have been two or three decades later when I met a grandson of Brother Sumner’s. He told me of his youthful days, when his grandfather had been a great user of tobacco — but had tried to keep his habit hidden from others.

Using tobacco is far from being the worst sin a person might be accused of. Nor did that grandson’s story make me completely lose the love and respect I still feel toward “Papa Sumner.” Yet I must confess that this homely revelation has lessened him a little in my memory. Like the rest of us, he was not quite as saintly as I might have thought.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how or when young Joash made his dark discovery. He knew a wicked queen was ruling Judah. He knew that he must be kept in hiding, lest he be killed just as all of his princely brothers had been killed. Those who cared for him in his place of concealment at the Temple complex were his aunt, who was a sister of the late king, and her husband, who was a priest.

At the tender age of seven, Joash was brought out of hiding and crowned as the rightful king. Not long after that, he must have known that the palace guard had killed the wicked queen at “the place where the horses enter the palace grounds” (2 Kings 11:16).

Did he see her blood spattered on that entryway?

Did he understand the full significance of this gory event?

This is the question posed by the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows: When did young Joash learn that this murderous, usurping queen — this female monster who was finally slaughtered by the same royal soldiers whom she had once commanded to slaughter innocent children — had been in fact his own grandmother?

Dark, dark, it was always dark
in the place where I grew up.
My aunt and uncle kept me safe;
they filled my bowl and cup.
Dark, dark, it was always dark,
for I must always hide.
“Hush, the wicked witch-queen hears!”
they warned me when I cried.

Light, light, all was dazzling light
on the day they brought me out.
The soldiers stood on every side;
the people raised a shout.
Light, light, all was dazzling light
on the day when I was crowned.
“Behold your king!” my uncle cried.
The one that’s lost is found!”

Blood, blood, there was so much blood
where the wicked witch-queen bled.
The soldiers slashed her with their swords;
the stones were splashed with red.
Blood, blood, there was so much blood.
She was wicked — yes, I know.
I never knew she was kin to me;
they never told me so.

O Father, help me in humility to confess that not all of my family and friends have always been worthy role models to be followed. Cause me to confess the same shortcoming in myself, as I seek Your gracious forgiveness. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 87 — August 31, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 87

 

Maacah the Queen Mother

 

Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done. He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his fathers had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 1 Kings 15:11-13

Queen Maacah would have fitted right in with the present era.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Queen Maacah?

The verses quoted above include most of what little the Bible tells us about Maacah the queen mother. She was the number one wife of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor. She outlived her husband and then her son King Abijah, Rehoboam’s successor. She also outlived the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age that she had become accustomed to.

It’s easy to remember that King Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem for the worship of the Lord God. Yet sometimes we forget that in his later years King Solomon’s many foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). For each of those foreign gods, Solomon also erected a house of worship in Jerusalem.

Thus Maacah grew up in a time of religious pluralism, an age when it was politically correct to live and let live in matters of religion . . . even when worship included sexual immorality. (Note the verses quoted above.) What a shock Queen Maacah must have had when her grandson, King Asa, came to the throne of Judah!

Viewed through the lenses of today’s conventional wisdom, Asa comes across as the bad guy in the story. He insisted that God is one, not many. He decreed that all of his people — even his grandmother Queen Maacah — should worship the one Lord God, . . . or at the very least should not be too blatantly obvious in flouting the royal decree. He burned Maacah’s Asherah pole (probably a pornographic phallic image). Yet even King Asa did not go so far as to abolish all shrines for pagan worship: “he did not remove the high places” (1 Kings 15:14).

In the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows, several expressions of today have been put into the mouth of Maacah the (former) queen mother. The words may be anachronistic, but the attitudes behind them are not.

Queen Maacah would have found herself more welcomed in contemporary settings than many Christians are, when we insist that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. With her pretentious broad-mindedness, Maacah would have felt right at home with people who are seeking “what works for me” rather than what is eternally true.

I’m not queen mother any more:
My grandson took away my throne.
I liked the way things were before:
Each one’s religion was one’s own.

My Rehoboam, when he reigned,
would let us worship as we chose.
My son Abijah never deigned
to say, “We serve these gods, not those.”

King Solomon’s extravagance
for each cult built a worship hall.
But now in youth’s intolerance
King Asa says, “One God fits all!”

I miss the perks of royalty.
My sacred pole has fueled fire.
And yet . . . my grandson set me free
to seek a way of life that’s higher.

I’d never be the one to cry
that all must sing the self-same song.
Let’s be broad-minded; who am I
to say your way to God is wrong?

O God in heaven, help me lovingly but steadfastly to follow the Christ who says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6]. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 86 — August 24, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 86

 

Ahithophel the Elderly Gilonite

 

In those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.
2 Samuel 16:23

So you’ve never heard of Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite? So you’re not even sure how to pronounce his name? Just say it like a line of rhythmic verse, and you’ll be getting it about right:

A-HITH-o-fel the EL-der-ly Gi-LO-nite.

Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite was a royal counselor. The Scripture verse quoted above tells us how highly he was regarded in the days of King David and David’s rebellious son Prince Absalom. Apparently Ahithophel divided his time between the king’s court in Jerusalem and his own ancestral village of Giloh in the hills of Judah.

How do we know he was elderly? By putting together 2 Samuel 11:3
and 2 Samuel 23:34. Ahithophel must have been old enough for his son Eliam to become one of David’s mighty warriors, and also old enough for his beautiful granddaughter Bathsheba to catch the king’s roving eye.

One of Eliam’s comrades in arms was Uriah the Hittite. Did old Ahithophel approve of the match when Eliam’s daughter (his own granddaughter) became the wife of this foreign adventurer? Perhaps more to the point: Did old Ahithophel give his approval when King David later took Bathsheba into his harem and arranged for Uriah to die in battle?

All of this is conjecture. The Bible gives us no hint as to what old Ahithophel thought about his granddaughter’s marital affairs. However in 2 Samuel 12:16-23 we read of David’s “servants” who were afraid at first to tell the king that Bathsheba’s little son (Ahithophel’s great-grandson) was dead. Then they were surprised when David abruptly ended his time of fasting and prayer. More than likely old Ahithophel was among that group of worried but loyal servants.

For whatever reason, Ahithophel later turned against his royal master. Probably most of those who joined Prince Absalom’s rebellion were younger men; yet at least one old greyhead threw in his lot with them. In a surprising show of fire and fury, old Ahithophel seemed quite ready to destroy his former master. Despite his years, he even volunteered to lead an army that would attack and kill David before the deposed king could escape by fording the Jordan River (2 Samuel 17:1-4).

King David heard that Ahithophel had defected. He knew from experience that Ahithophel’s advice was likely to be on target. Because of this he prayed, “O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness” (2 Samuel 15:31).

Instead of heeding Ahithophel, foolish Prince Absalom inquired instead of Hushai, a double agent whom David had sent back to Jerusalem. As a result, King David and his followers were able to escape — and later, they were able to crush Absalom’s conspiracy.

Apparently Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite could foresee the bitter end of all his hopes. Once his wise counsel had been rejected, he saddled his donkey, rode back home to Giloh, set his house in order, and then hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23).

Why devote so much space to this rather obscure Old Testament character? Because Ahithophel, however wise or foolish he may have been, became the great-grandfather of Solomon the Wise. And because of this, old Ahithophel is included among the earthly ancestors of One who was greater than King Solomon (Luke 11:31).

Keep these facts in mind as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, which has deliberately been written in a rather stately style that echoes royal chronicles of ancient times:

Ahithophel the elderly Gilonite
addressed his son Eliam on this wise:
“Your daughter’s being courted by a Hittite;
shall our Bathsheba be a pagan’s prize?”

Ahithophel was thought to be a wise man;
both king and council looked to him as guide;
and yet Ahithophel deemed it a wise plan
to let Bathsheba be Uriah’s bride.

Say, did Ahithophel give further counsel
when David took Bathsheba as his own?
Could such a sage not prophesy nor foretell
that grief and shame would tarnish Israel’s throne?

The holy record gives no hint of friction, . . .
and yet Ahithophel betrayed his lord.
To Absalom he counseled with conviction
that David must be struck down at the ford.

But other counselors had been invited.
“To strike too soon,” said they, “would not be well.
Let all our rebel forces be united!”
That spelled the end for old Ahithophel.

He rode back home, expecting quick disaster.
He set his house in order; then he died.
Soon David once again was Israel’s master;
Prince Absalom had perished in his pride.

Should old Ahithophel now be forgotten?
His great-grandson ruled Israel’s golden age.
(Another from that royal line begotten
was greater far than Solomon the Sage!)

Help me, O Lord, to be loving toward both the wise and the unwise among members of the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 85 — August 17, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 85

 

The Song of Naomi

 

After his birth the women said to Naomi: “Praise the Lord! Today he has given you a grandson to take care of you. . . . He will make you happy and take care of you in your old age, because he is the son of your daughter-in-law. And she loves you more than seven sons of your own would love you.” Naomi loved the boy and took good care of him. The neighborhood women named him Obed, but they called him “Naomi’s Boy.” Ruth 4:14a, 15-17a, CEV

Have you ever known a grandmother who wasn’t really a grandmother?

I’ve known several. One of my cousins used to call a godly woman “Grandmother” because she had become like a mother to his motherless father. One of my own grandmothers was also like a true grandmother to her many step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren. My wife has a young niece who calls her “Aunt,” yet because of their comparative ages she seems more like the girl’s grandmother.

Naomi was a surrogate grandmother. Her two sons died childless; yet she surely must have seemed like a grandmother to the little boy who was born later on to one of her widowed daughters-in-law.

In writing this series of devotional meditations, I had a hard decision to make about Naomi the surrogate grandmother: In which section should she be placed? She might just as well have fitted in the section subtitled “Enterprising Women.” Note that Naomi was:

Practical: When she decided to go back home to Bethlehem after suffering the loss of husband and sons, Naomi discouraged her two Moabite daughters-in-law from going with her. “Do I have any more sons for you to marry?” she asked pointedly. “Go on back home.” (See Ruth 1:8-13.)

Realistic: Naomi still wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses when she got back home to Bethlehem. “Naomi means ‘Pleasant,’” she moaned. “After all that’s happened to me, you ought to call me Marah, ‘Bitter,’ instead. I left here full, with a husband and two sons; I’m coming back empty.” (See Ruth 1:20-21.)

Resourceful: Naomi did not let her grief overwhelm her common sense. She knew that by ancient custom, the poor and the foreigners in the land of Israel were supposed to be allowed to follow along after harvesters, picking up what they had dropped. Ruth qualified on both counts; therefore Naomi agreed to send her daughter-in-law into the fields of ripened barley. (See Ruth 2:2-3.)

+ Clever: When Ruth attracted favorable attention from Boaz, Naomi knew how to make the most of this heaven-sent opportunity. She sent Ruth back again to the threshing-floor by night, counseling her first to bathe, perfume herself, and wear her best clothes. (See Ruth 3:1-6.)

+ Hopeful: When the startled Boaz recognized Ruth in the shadows, he sent her home with a double measure of barley and with a shining promise: As a kinsman of Ruth’s deceased husband, he would do his duty by her. When Naomi heard this, she knew that in spite of all her grief and loss she still had hope: She encouraged her widowed daughter-in-law to wait patiently for a positive outcome. (See Ruth 3:18.)

You know the rest of the story. Boaz did indeed marry Ruth. (Another devotional thought in this two-year series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS focuses on Boaz; see week 23.) Boaz and Ruth had a little boy. That little boy no doubt called Naomi “Grandmother.” And in the long providence of God, that little boy grew up to become the grandfather of David the King. (See Ruth 4:13-17.)

The following Bible-based poetic meditation seeks to reconstruct the song that Naomi might have sung, along with possible responses from her neighbors in Bethlehem:

A grandson, a grandson!
I’ve hoped all these years for a grandson,
and now in my old age I hold one –
a grandson all my own.
A grandson all your own?

Well, no, he’s not really my grandson.
He’s Boaz’s heir, Ruth’s first-born son.
No grandson, then, is he.

No grandson, you say, to me?
When his father is kin to my own son?
His mother once wed to my own son?
He seems like a grandson to me!
A grandson, then, is he?
Half Moabite, half Israelite?
How might that seem in heaven’s sight?

My two sons long have lain in earth.
Now heaven sends this blessed birth,
this boy who turns my grief to mirth:
He’s surely a grandson to me!

Thank you, God, for grandmothers — our own, and those who become like grandmothers to us. Keep all grandparents and grandchildren in Your tender care. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 84 — August 10, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
GRANDPARENTS

 

week 84

 

Grandfather Jacob

 

When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased . . . . Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he.” Genesis 48:17a, 18-19

One of the trials of old age is, younger people think you don’t really know what’s going on. Jacob’s father had this bitter experience when Jacob and his mother connived to fool old blind Isaac into thinking that Jacob was actually Esau, Isaac’s favorite son.

Trickery seems to have been built in to Jacob’s very nature. He pulled all sorts of tricks on Laban, his father-in-law. When he finally became reconciled to Esau again, Jacob seemed less than straightforward in insisting that he and his estranged brother should not try to travel together.

As Jacob himself grew old, his propensity toward slyness came back to haunt him in the conduct of his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, slipped into the women’s tent and committed incest with one of his father’s concubines. When jealous older brothers sold Joseph into slavery, they convinced Jacob that his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. Is it any wonder that Grandfather Jacob found it hard to believe when his sons returned from their grain-buying expedition with strange stories out of Egypt?

First he thought they were trying to trick him into giving up Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother. Then he thought they were lying when they told him that Joseph himself was alive and well.

Genesis 46:27 includes a poignant, homely little detail: When Grandfather Jacob “saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back,” he finally believed what his sons had been trying to tell him.

After his joyful reunion with Joseph in Egypt, Grandfather Jacob was asked to give a special blessing to his two Egyptian-born grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Following ancient custom, Joseph naturally expected a larger patriarchal blessing to rest upon the head of the firstborn. But Grandfather Jacob had other ideas.

Review in your mind the long and complicated saga of Grandfather Jacob, as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

“Grandfather Jacob is easy to fool.”
(So my sons think as a general rule.)
Devious Reuben stole from me a wife.
(Thus I’m repaid for my devious life.)

“Grandfather Jacob need not know the truth.”
(Thus I’m repaid for the lies of my youth.)
Joseph’s coat came home all bloody one day.
(Are you surprised that my hair has gone grey?)

Now my sons say: “Down to Egypt we’ll ride!
There we’ll buy grain, then return to your side.”
Should I believe them? They’ve fooled me before.
Why should I trust what they say any more?

Now they say: “Simeon’s been forced to remain;
Benjamin’s going, or else there’s no grain.”
How can I trust them? Then Judah cries out:
“My life for Benjamin’s!” Still there is doubt . . . .

Now they say: “Joseph’s alive! He’s grown great!
Second to Pharaoh, he governs the state.
Grandfather Jacob, he’s asked about you.
See what he sent, so that you can come, too!”

Dare I believe them? They’ve brought Simeon back;
Benjamin, too, with his silver-stuffed pack.
Will I embrace a son lost long ago?
Seeing the wagons persuades me it’s so.

Now Joseph welcomes me: Laughter and tears!
Telling what’s happened through twenty long years!
So the days pass, . . . and my eyes have grown weak.
Now Joseph comes; he’s beginning to speak:

“Grandfather Jacob, please bless my two boys!”
Hugging them, kissing them, hearing their noise, . . .
Thus can I tell which lad stands by my side.
Crossing my hands, then, I spread my arms wide.

“Grandfather Jacob, you’ve got them reversed!”
“No, my son, I know Manasseh’s your first.
He shall be blest . . . yet I know this as well:
Ephraim’s blessing is too great to tell!”

O Father, help the old among us to trust the knowledge of the young; help the young among us to heed the wisdom of the old. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 83 — August 3, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
DAUGHTERS

 

week 83

 

Four Sisters Beside the Sea

 

We continued our voyage . . . and arrived in Caesarea. There we stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen as helpers in Jerusalem. He had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s message.
Acts 21:7a, 8b-9, GNT

Early records of Christ’s People mention several cities that became centers of Christian activity and evangelistic outreach. The first one was Jerusalem, then Antioch in Syria, then – eventually – Rome.
Perhaps Caesarea deserves to be included in that select list of cities:

• It was to Caesarea, a great Roman seaport and provincial capital, that Simon Peter came in response to a God-ordained invitation from Cornelius.
• It was to Caesarea that Saul of Tarsus fled not long after his conversion, and from there he took ship for his native Tarsus.
• It was to Caesarea that Saul came again as Paul the Apostle, landing there on his fateful journey to Jerusalem.
• It was in Caesarea that Agabus the Prophet acted out a warning that Paul would be imprisoned if he continued on his intended way.
• It was in Caesarea that Paul was later tried before Governor Felix and King Agrippa.
• It was in Caesarea that Paul was held in prison for two long years before sailing away to appeal his case before the emperor in Rome.

Peter’s connections with Caesarea were sporadic; so were Paul’s. But Philip’s connections with Caesarea were on a long-term basis. Philip was one of the seven men appointed to help the apostles in Jerusalem; some people call this group the first deacons. Philip was the one who evangelized in Samaria, then on a desert road near Gaza where he met the queen’s treasurer from Ethiopia. After that experience, Philip worked his way up the coast of Palestine and finally settled in Caesarea.

One of the most intriguing things that the Bible tells us about Philip is stated in the verses quoted above. Nowhere else in the Scriptures are we told anything more about Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s message.”

Why were they unmarried? That was not in keeping with their culture. Older Bible translations state that these four single sisters “prophesied”; yet in olden times both Deborah the Prophetess and Huldah the Prophetess had husbands.

Perhaps – like many of their sisters in the family of faith through twenty centuries – these four sisters who lived beside the sea felt that God had called them to use all their energies in proclaiming his message, without the distraction of raising families.

How many single women can you name who have had a positive impact on your life as a Christian? I can name several; probably you can, too. Think about those women as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Papa’s an evangelist;
all of us, we preach God’s Word
all along beside the sea,
seeking those who’ve never heard.

Paul was running for his life
when he first passed through our town –
fleeing from Jerusalem,
site of many a martyr’s crown.

Off to Tarsus then he sailed,
there to stay for several years –
drawing closer to our Lord
through his prayers and thoughts and tears.

We saw Peter more than Paul
in those blessed early days –
roaming up and down the coast,
fanning faith into a blaze.

Paul at last returned one day,
sailing in from foreign parts;
many a tale he told us of
Christ enthroned in human hearts.

Agabus came to our house,
warning Paul of chains ahead.
Paul refused to change his plans:
“To Jerusalem!” he said.

Sure enough, they seized him there,
beat him, tried to murder him.
Roman soldiers brought him back,
locked him in a dungeon grim.

Two years later, off he sailed,
taking his appeal to Rome.
We’ve been waiting for the news:
Will he once more grace our home?

O Father of us all, thank you for single women in the family of faith. Help us to welcome them as sisters and daughters in Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 82 — July 27, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
DAUGHTERS

 

week 82

 

I Know Peter’s Voice : Young Rhoda at the Gate

 

A servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” Acts 12:13b-15

On a certain Sunday in 1799, a boy named Conrad Reed in backwoods North Carolina was playing hooky from church. Near a creek he found a heavy stone that sparkled like gold. Shouting with joy, he lugged his great discovery home.

His parents quickly dampened his enthusiasm. “Fool’s gold,” they said. And they put the big rock to use as a doorstop.

Three years later, the boy’s father started thinking, “Maybe there’s something to what the lad said after all.” He took the yellowish rock to a local druggist, who paid him a day’s wages for it. It turned out to be a seventeen-pound lump of gold, worth a thousand times more than the father had sold it for!

The story has a happy ending: Both father and son later became rich from the first gold strike ever discovered in the United States. Our young nation built a mint in the nearby city of Charlotte, especially for making coins from the output of the Reed Gold Mine.

On that first Sunday, a young boy thought he had stumbled onto gold, but no grownups would believe him. His experience was similar to that of a young girl in Bible times. Her name? Rhoda.

We know very little about Rhoda. She was a servant (perhaps a slave) to Mary, the mother of John Mark. The Christians in Jerusalem liked to gather in Mary’s home. In this instance they had gathered to pray for Simon Peter, who had been arrested by Herod’s soldiers and would likely soon be put to death, as his fellow-disciple James had recently been.

Then came that knock on the door. Rhoda apparently knew Peter well, for she recognized him only from hearing his voice. But those who were older and thought themselves wiser than she, knew it could not possibly be Peter, . . . unless perhaps Peter had already died a martyr’s death, and it was his ghost that had come calling.

Like young Conrad Reed of two hundred years ago, young Rhoda of two thousand years ago had the satisfaction of finding out that she had been right all along. Let’s hope that she had the further satisfaction of following her Lord faithfully, as Peter did.

Do you know some young person who sometimes seems altogether too sure about things? Pray for that young person as you read this Bible-based poetic meditation.

I know Peter’s voice.
I’ve heard him many times.
On the Day of Pentecost,
thousands saved who once were lost:
that was Peter’s voice.

I know Peter’s voice.
I heard him once again.
Thousands at the Temple gate
saw a lame man stand up straight:
that was Peter’s voice.

I know Peter’s voice.
I heard him — though they cried,
“Nonsense, Rhoda! How absurd!”
yet I knew what I had heard:
that was Peter’s voice.

I know Peter’s voice.
I heard him — though they said,
“Peter’s angel? Can it be?”
yet I knew who spoke to me:
that was Peter’s voice.

I know Peter’s voice.
He told amazing news:
Angel-freed to preach the Word!
Then they realized what I’d heard:
that was Peter’s voice.

O Lord, in the family of faith we need both the rash enthusiasm of youth and the considered wisdom of age. Help us all to love and appreciate one another. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 81 — July 20, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
DAUGHTERS

 

week 81

 

I’ve Never Quite Known Who I Am : Queen Esther

 

Esther . . . continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
Esther 2:20b

People sometimes toss about the term “identity crisis” rather loosely. Yet there is such a syndrome, and it can have an especially serious effect on the young.

I used to know an adolescent girl who felt pulled back and forth between her divorced parents. I used to know a family of three young siblings who felt pulled back and forth between their own mother and their father’s parents. When we were living in Indonesia, another missionary couple adopted locally; as that dark-skinned little boy grew up, he really had a hard time knowing who he was.

Did Esther in Bible times have an identity crisis? She was born in exile, to a Hebrew family living in Persia. She lost both of her parents at an early age. Apparently there were no siblings or grandparents, no uncles or aunts to step in, for she was brought up by her cousin.

The verse quoted above tells us that even as a young adult Esther was not yet used to making her own decisions, deferring instead to her adoptive father. When she was called to go into the presence of the Persian king, “she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested” (Esther 2:15c). And when she was made queen of the realm, she never told the king about her ancestry.

The well-known story of how Esther came to be queen is briefly reviewed in the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows. When the wicked Haman tried to commit genocide against the Hebrews who were then living in exile, Esther followed her cousin Mordecai’s advice and went uninvited into the throne-room to ask protection for her people. In order to steel her resolve for this dangerous move, Mordecai posed a question that is the most famous verse in the Book of Esther. At the same time he resolved Esther’s identity crisis (if indeed she ever had one): “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14d).

I’ve never quite known who I am.
My parents both died long ago.
My cousin, who’s cared for me since,
has taught all I’ve needed to know.

I’ve never quite known who I am.
So when Mordecai said I might
become the new queen of the land,
I did what he told me was right.

I’ve never quite known who I am.
So when I went in to the king,
I sought good advice as to gown,
my ornaments, hair, everything.

I’ve never quite known who I am.
So when the great king made me queen,
I never once mentioned my past,
my people, or what we have been.

I’ve never quite known who I am.
So when Mordecai said I must
speak up for my people and his,
I wasn’t quite sure who to trust.

At last now I know who I am:
A woman to whom God gave breath
so I could persuade the great king
to save all my people from death!

O Father-God, look down in mercy on all those members of the human family who harbor questions about their identity or their proper role! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

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