WEEK 82 — July 27, 2016



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



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

WEEK 79 — July 6, 2016



week 79


Do You Hate Your Family?


Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:25-27

What a shocking series of statements Jesus strung together in the verses quoted above! How can we reconcile these sweeping pronouncements about hate with the many times Jesus commanded us to love?

If we are to love even our enemies, how then can we hate our own families?

If Jesus himself had hated his mother, would he have taken such care to provide for her as he hung dying on the cross?

If Jesus had hated his brothers, would some of them later have become prominent Christian leaders and writers of parts of the New Testament?

How can we understand these words of Jesus that seem so strange, so harsh, so uncompromising?

• As a teenager I heard a wise man or woman say (I have never forgotten the words, though I don’t remember who said them), “Christ will be Lord of all, or he will not be lord at all.” I have quoted that neat phrase many times in teaching, preaching, and writing.

• Just recently I was reading a devotional magazine of wide circulation when I encountered an idea that was new to me: In the Bible (according to that devotional writer), “to hate” means to love less. This goes along with some other words from Jesus which are just as striking but not as puzzling as his statements about hating our families: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

Indeed, Jesus himself is the best interpreter of his own hard sayings. Hear what he had to say: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two and against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53).

Do you think such family divisions because of Christ are a matter of the past? Perhaps you need to meet some of your fellow believers who come out of Muslim backgrounds.

We Christians have a strong tendency to prefer the easy sayings of Jesus, the comfortable sayings, the comforting sayings. We need to remember his tough sayings as well. Think about that as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Do you hate your family?
Jesus said you should.
Can we go by what he said?
Hating folks is good?

Sometimes Jesus spoke to shock,
spoke to make us think —
such as when he said his blood
ought to be our drink.

“We should hate our folks.” Is that
what we’re told to do?
Didn’t Jesus say that love
proves disciples true?

How, then, can we measure up?
How to calibrate,
when our selfless Lord of love
also counsels hate?

This is what his shocking words
warn us all about:
Lest for love of family
Jesus is left out.

If our friends are all in all,
Jesus we forget:
Then that strange command to hate
we remember yet.

Loving Jesus first and last:
This must be the key.
He will teach us how to view
friends and family.

O Lord of love, guard us from loving any other more than we love You! Amen.

Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 80 — July 13, 2016



week 80


Five Daughters Had Zelophehad


The daughters of Zelophehad . . . stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly and said, “Our father died in the desert. . . . Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son?”
Numbers 27:1a, 2b-3a, 3c

Zelophehad . . . what a strange name! Actually his name is almost all we know about him: The main reason he is mentioned in Scripture came to light only after Zelophehad himself was dead.

Are sons valued more highly than daughters in present-day society? In China they are: So many girl-babies are aborted that there is a serious gender imbalance among the Chinese population. Here in America we may glibly say we value every child alike, but is that one hundred percent true? Have you ever known parents who were especially elated when their first child turned out to be a boy?

In ancient times Zelophehad and his wife were blessed with five children, . . . and all five of them were girls. Like the other adults of that generation (except for Joshua and Caleb), Zelophehad and his wife then died somewhere between Egypt and Canaan. And this gave rise to a problem.

Does the Bible teach male domination? Some people think it does. They quote the Old Testament to justify paternal rule in the family. They quote the New Testament to support male leadership in the church.

Yet the strange little story of Zelophehad’s five daughters also stands in Scripture as a healthy corrective to over-emphasis on certain selected passages. Their father must have brought them up to be strong and fearless girls: The verses quoted above show that they were not afraid to face Moses and all the other leaders of their people in a quest for what they considered to be right.

According to Hebrew tradition (as in many other cultures), the usual line of descent was from father to son. But in Zelophehad’s family there was no son to inherit the father’s property. Did this mean that his descendants would have nothing, would not even be counted among the people of Israel?

The five daughters of Zelophehad had other ideas. They presented their case clearly and succinctly. Moses consulted the Lord God in prayer, and then concluded that their claim was just. A later passage tells us that others of the tribe of Manasseh feared these five women of property would marry outside their tribe, thus diminishing the sum total of tribal territory. The daughters of Zelophehad took note of this concern and made a concession: They sensibly agreed to marry “their cousins on their father’s side” (Numbers 36:10).

Can you remember some other women of Bible times who were not afraid to stand up and speak out?

• Deborah’s bold words encouraged an overly-timid Barak (see Judges 4:4-10, also week 43 in this series of devotional thoughts).
• Rhoda kept on insisted that it really was Peter knocking at the gate (see Acts 12:11-17, also week 82 in MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS).
• A Canaanite woman persisted in seeking divine healing for her daughter (see Mark 7:24-30, also week 47).
• Female heralds of the resurrection brought glorious news that seemed “like nonsense” to the frightened males who first heard it (see Luke 24:10-11, also week 36 in MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS).

The strange little story of Zelophehad has been paraphrased rather whimsically in the following Bible-based poetic meditation. As you read it, remember that God loves the daughters in his family just as much as he does the sons.

                                               a Hebrew dad,
                                                       though no son had

                                               a Hebrew dad:
                                                         Five daughters had

Names he gave his daughters: Tirzah,
Noah, Mahlah, Hoglah, Milcah.
When Moses led the Hebrews out
with tambourine and joyful shout,
the daughters of Zelophehad
joined in to make God’s people glad.

                                                   took to his bed;
                                                          too early dead,

                                         In sackcloth clad,
                                                  five girls were sad;
                                                          they loved their dad,

When time came for that Hebrew band
to parcel out the Promised Land,
then Tirzah and her sisters said,
“You know Zelophehad is dead.
He left no son; he left us five.
Should we not keep his name alive?
Give us his land, when sharing’s done,
the same as if he’d had a son.”

Old Moses frowned; he talked with God.
God said, “They’re right! Share out the sod
of Canaan’s land – the good, the bad –
with those who loved Zelophehad.”

                                               his portion had,
                                                       though no son had

                                               a Hebrew dad:
                                                       Five daughters had

O God, help us all to remember Your promise in Scripture:
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”
[2 Corinthians 6:18]. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas