WEEK 100 – November 30, 2016



week 100


The Seamstress of Joppa : Dorcas / Tabitha


In Joppa there was a follower named Tabitha. . . . She was always doing good things for people and had given much to the poor. . . . The men took Peter upstairs into the room. Many widows were there crying. They showed him the coats and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was still alive. After Peter had sent everyone out of the room, he knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body of Dorcas and said, “Tabitha, get up!” The woman opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
Acts 9:36a, 36c, 39b-40-41a, CEV

Other than the unique Resurrection of our Lord, the New Testament mentions hardly half a dozen people who were raised from the dead. How fitting that one of those fortunate few should have been a simple seamstress in the seaport city of Joppa!

Some years ago my wife enlisted several Indonesian Christian women to begin a sewing outreach group in a busy city where there were many poor people. Not Joppa but Java was the name of the island where the city was located. When these women considered a name for their ministry, it seemed natural that they should turn to the familiar story found in Acts 9:36-40.

The name we most often use for the seamstress of Joppa is Dorcas. My wife and her friends chose instead to use the alternative name. For a quarter of a century Grup Tabita ministered to thousands of women and girls from Islamic backgrounds – women and girls who likely would never have darkened the door of a church. “We must be the church for them,” those dedicated leaders agreed. And a significant number of Indonesian women and girls came to Christ through Grup Tabita.

Tabita or Tabitha means gazelle or deer in Aramaic; Dorcas means gazelle or deer in Greek. Was there some reason why the seamstress of Joppa was known by such names? Did she have beautiful eyes like a doe? Was she shy like a faun?

Actually the Bible tells us very little about Dorcas/Tabitha. We know
she was a Christian believer. We know she lived at a busy seaport on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. We know that many poor widows also lived at Joppa, some of them no doubt being the survivors of unlucky sailors.

We know Dorcas was skilled with her needle. We know she must have had enough means to be able to make charitable contributions; perhaps she sewed some clothes to sell and some to give away. (My wife and her friends did not give away clothes. Instead they taught Indonesian women and girls how to sew clothes, both for their own use and to sell for the support of their families.)

When Dorcas sickened and died, her fellow believers in Joppa took speedy action. Two of them hurried off to a nearby town where they had heard that one of the apostles was ministering. And in the power of God’s Spirit, Peter came back with them to Joppa and restored Dorcas to life.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Dorcas, once she had become a Christian believer, may have had a bit of trouble figuring out how she should best serve her Lord. Most Palestinian women of that day were uneducated, even illiterate. Cultural norms kept most of them from assuming any prominent role in society.

Be sure to thank God for showing Dorcas what she should do. Then thank God again for restoring the seamstress of Joppa to her grieving fellow believers.

My home is in Joppa, a seaport of fame.
A prophet once sailed from here, Jonah by name.
Now, many that go to sea never return, . . .
and what then is left for their widows to earn?

The widows of Joppa are wasted by want;
their bodies are bony, their faces are gaunt.
Their children – half-orphans, or orphans indeed –
are wretched and ragged, in hunger and need.

The Good News of Jesus reached Joppa one day.
I knew in my heart then that this was the Way.
But . . . how should I serve Him, my Savior and Lord?
I looked for some leading, some sign from the Word.

No study or learning equipped me to teach.
No eloquence made me endeavor to preach.
No miracle under my fingers took form,
except . . . by my needle the needy stayed warm.

O Giver of every good and perfect gift, help all the members of the family of faith to discover what You have prepared for them, and then to do what You have equipped them for. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 99 — November 23, 2016



week 99


The Clever Canaanite


A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
Matthew 15:22-23

Two Scriptural accounts tell of a strange encounter that brought together three parties: 1) a foreign woman with her suffering daughter, 2) the twelve disciples, and 3) Jesus. Read all of Matthew 15:21-28; then compare it with Mark 7:24-30.

Mark’s version calls the woman “a Syro-Phoenician.” Once a little boy in Sunday School called her “a styrofoamician.” There was no styrofoam when I myself was a little boy in Sunday School; yet I can still remember that the unusual name seemed to add an intriguing sort of strangeness to this particular Gospel story.

Part of the strange fascination comes from the mention of demon-possession. When I was a child, many Christians tended to think of demon-possession as one of those peculiar things that may indeed have happened in Bible times, but they didn’t happen anymore . . . like God walking in the Garden of Eden, or the parting of the Red Sea, or Balaam’s talking donkey, or the sun standing still at Joshua’s command. On the other hand, some people tended to explain away demon-possession as being what we would call nowadays mental illness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or the like.

During my lifetime there has come a distinct change in the way Christians view the matter of demon-possession. Missionaries in Africa and Asia have reported too many cases that apparently cannot be accounted for in any other way. The late author M. Scott Peck has published Children of the Lie, a book reporting in clinical detail what can happen when the power of evil takes over a human life.

Let’s set aside demon-possession, then, as being the strangest element in this story of the woman variously described as a Canaanite or a Syro-Phoenician. The truly strange thing in the story is, the reaction of Jesus and his disciples.

We might have expected the narrow-minded and slow-witted disciples to want to give the brush-off to a woman who was not one of the Chosen People, the Children of Israel. But why was Jesus himself seemingly so slow in paying attention to her plea?

Part of the answer comes from conversational customs of those days. It was common for a teacher or a scholar to engage in some good-natured verbal sparring with his pupils. What Jesus said to the woman sounds harsh to us; it may not have sounded quite so harsh to the woman herself. As a matter of fact, this enterprising woman rose to the challenge, answering Jesus in the same rather teasing way he had spoken to her. (That’s why I’ve used as a title “The Clever Canaanite.”)

Don’t assume that the expanded dialogue presented here in poetic form is totally a product of the imagination. Read carefully the two Gospel accounts, combine them in your mind, and then compare them with what follows:

        The Woman:     Have mercy on me!
                                         Have mercy on me!
                                         O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

                                         My daughter’s possessed;
                                         she’s deeply distressed:
                                         O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

          The Disciples:  Lord, send her away!
                                         O send her away!
                                         She keeps crying after us: send her away!

           The Master:    She’s not of our kin.
                                         I’ve come to bring in
                                         the lost sheep of Israel, wandering in sin.

          The Woman:   Lord, help me! Please help me!
                                         My daughter’s so small;
                                         she suffers from demons that hold her in thrall.

           The Master:   The children come first;
                                         I can’t take their meat
                                         and throw it to dogs that crouch under their feet.

          The Woman:   Yes, Lord, so it is.
                                         Yet even a pup
                                         gets crumbs from the table and gobbles them up.

           The Master:    O woman, your faith
                                         is too great to tell!
                                         Go home to your daughter; you’ll find she is well.

Lord, strengthen my faith when answers to prayer seem strangely slow in coming. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 98 — November 16, 2016



week 98


A Woman of Samaria


Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
John 4:28-29

In many ways the Book of John is unique among the Four Gospels. One aspect of its uniqueness is this: It records at length several conversations between Jesus and one other person. Sometimes the partner in conversation is given a name; do you remember each of these?

•  A front-yard conversation with Nathanael (John 1).
•  A night-time conversation with Nicodemus (John 3).
•  A graveyard conversation with Martha (John 11).
•  A courtroom conversation with Pontius Pilate (John 18-19).
•  A garden conversation with Mary Magdalene (John 20).
•  A lakeside conversation with Simon Peter (John 21).

In other cases, however, we are never told the name of the person with whom Jesus spent some time in conversation. Do you remember the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5? The woman taken in adultery (John 8)? The man born blind (John 9)?

Focus your attention now on still another of those unnamed persons whom our Lord and Savior deigned to engage in conversation: a woman of Samaria. The dialogue she had with Jesus is unusually long and detailed, even compared with those other conversations recorded in John’s Gospel; reread it in John 4:7-26, if you’ve forgotten.

In recent months we and some of our fellow church members have spent time in our small group discussing a sad fact: Too many of us Christians live in an insulated world. We have little contact with non-believers. Their lifestyle makes us feel uncomfortable. We’d rather associate with our own kind.

How different we are from our Lord Jesus! He knew quite well what sort of life this unnamed woman of Samaria had been leading. He knew that she — like many people of today — had gone through a whole string of failed marriages. He knew that she — again, like many people of today — was living with a person of the opposite sex to whom she was not married. Perhaps Jesus could even guess why the woman had come to Jacob’s Well at an hour when she would not be as likely to meet other women there.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation speaks with the voice of the woman of Samaria. As you read it, prayerfully ask yourself how many people you actually know whose lives are far different from your own. Ask yourself how your attitude and approach toward those people measures up, when compared with the attitude and approach of Jesus.

I always went to Jacob’s Well at noon,
avoiding crowds that went at dusk and dawn.
Experience had taught me all too soon . . .
those sidewise glances, wishing I were gone.

A man was sitting there beside the well —
a Jew, . . . and yet he asked me for a drink.
I marveled at the things he had to tell:
prophetic words that made me stop and think.

He offered me his friendship. More than that,
he offered living water for my thirst.
I left my jar beside him where he sat;
I ran to tell the news before I burst:

“Come meet a man who knows what all I’ve done,
and yet he offers friendship just the same!
Is this the Christ? Is this the Promised One?
It’s strange . . . I do not even know his name.”

“O Son of Man, who walked man’s way
to minister to human need,
we come confessing as we pray
for conduct that will match our creed.”

(Quoted from William N. McElrath, in Seven Hymns of Concern and Ministry. Copyright © 1969 by Broadman Press. Used by Permission.)

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 97 — November 9, 2016



week 97


Good News and Bad News : Huldah the Prophetess


The prophetess Huldah . . . lived in Jerusalem . . . . She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says.”
2 Kings 22:14b-15a

Words that ends in “-ess” are not popular nowadays. In restaurants the waitress has become a member of the wait staff. On stage and screen the actress has become an actor. On airplanes the stewardess has become a flight attendant.

Are our Bible translations still perpetuating some vestige of an outmoded male-dominated way of speech when they speak of a prophetess?

Not necessarily. Rather, they are accurately rendering into English the words that were used in the original languages of the Bible.
The better-known biblical term, of course, is the word prophet. How many times that expression appears in Scripture! By contrast, the feminine form of the same word can be found in only eight verses, six of them in the Old Testament.

Two of those eight verses refer to the same person. Two verses speak negatively of women who merely claimed to be prophetesses. One verse seems to identify a prophet’s wife as being a prophetess. That still leaves four women of Bible times who are clearly honored with the designation of prophetess or female prophet (not counting several women of New Testament times who are said to have “prophesied”). Who were these four prophetesses?

•  Miriam, the sister of Moses who led a paean of victory beside the Red Sea. (See “That’s My Little Brother : Miriam Sings,” week 22 in this series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.)
•  Deborah, who urged Barak on to victory in battle. (See the devotional thought “Men! Men! : Deborah the Prophetess,” week 43.)
•  Anna, who welcomed Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus at the Temple. (See “Old Folks at the Temple,” week 37.)
•  Huldah, wife of Shallum.

Is it safe to say that Huldah is the least known of the four?
Shallum her husband was “keeper of the wardrobe.” This probably means that he looked after the robes worn by the priests in the Temple. Yet when a special delegation led by the high priest came from the royal palace one day, it was not Shallum they were looking for: It was Shallum’s wife.

Probably you remember the story. The godly young King Josiah had decreed that the Temple should be cleansed of its filth and foreign accretions. In the process a Book of the Law had been discovered. Josiah had torn his garments in anguish when he realized that he and his people had not been observing the commands of God. That was why he had sent three highly-placed royal attendants, along with Hilkiah the high priest, to find out what would happen because of this long neglect and disobedience. These four men found out, all right – not from another man, but from a woman.

Huldah’s prophecy, as recorded in 2 Kings 22:15-20, included good news and bad news. The bad news was a warning of doom for God’s wayward people. The good news was a reassuring word that divine judgment would not descend during the life and reign of King Josiah.

Huldah must have felt great sadness as she gave her answer to the royal messengers. She must have mourned for the earnest young king who would die too soon. She must have wept for her people, who would suffer the bitter results of their sin. Yet she bravely spoke the truth — God’s truth.

That’s what it means to be a prophetess or a prophet: Not so much foretelling as forth-telling, speaking plainly what God has revealed. Keep that in mind as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

My day begins like any other day.
My husband leaves for work (a priestly post).
Then priestly messengers arrive to say,
“We’ve found the scroll, the scroll that long was lost!”

The scroll demands that we obey our God,
and warns of judgment when obedience dies —
when foreign foes become a chastening rod
and all Jerusalem is filled with sighs.

But what of him who sent the priests to ask?
Josiah seems so young to face such doom.
For when the scroll had taken him to task,
he tore his robes; his mourning filled the room.

I’ll speak of doom, but add: “Go tell your king
he’ll never see disasters multiply.”
(Alas, my message holds a hidden sting:
Too young he’ll face the day that he must die.)

God of all true prophets and prophetesses, bless with wisdom and boldness those men and women whom You have called to proclaim Your truth. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 96 — November 2, 2016



week 96


Princess Michal


Saul’s daughter Michal . . . fell in love with David. . . . When Saul’s men came to get David, Michal told them that he was sick. . . . Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and jumping around in the sacred dance, and she was disgusted . . . .
Michal never had any children.
1 Samuel 18:20a; 19:14; 2 Samuel 6:16bc, 23, CEV

Princess Michal is a Bible character who functioned as a sort of bridge during the troubled days of the first two kings of Israel. The younger daughter of King Saul, she was first given in marriage to David. Then she was married off to someone else instead. Once David became king, he reclaimed Princess Michal as a member of his harem . . . , although it is questionable how much happiness this action brought to either one of them.

Why has Princess Michal been placed in this series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS under the section entitled “Enterprising Women,” rather than being included with “Daughters” or “Wives and Husbands”? Because she was apparently an independent-minded female who took affairs into her own hands. Because she was not afraid to say what she thought.

We first meet Michal as a love-struck girl – perhaps still a teenager. David, the rising young hero in her father’s royal court, was supposed to have been given in marriage to Princess Merab, Michal’s older sister. That union never came to be. But Michal herself fell head over heels in love with the handsome youth from Bethlehem.

Wily King Saul saw an opportunity of doing away with his rising young rival. He set a high bride price, demanding clear proof that one hundred enemy soldiers had been killed. David and his men brought back body parts from — not just one hundred but two hundred enemies.

Then Saul’s insane jealousy flared up again. Michal helped David escape from Saul’s spies by letting him down from a window in the city wall. She stuffed a goat’s-hair figure under the covers to deceive Saul’s search party, claiming that David was sick in bed.

After David’s escape, Michal was given in marriage to a chieftain who lived on the far side of the Jordan. But once Saul had died and David had seized the throne, he demanded Michal back again. Her second husband wept to see her go.

Did David really love Michal, as Michal had once loved David? Not necessarily. But as the daughter of the former king, Michal was valuable to David; she helped legitimize his claim to the kingship. (Notice how often the verses quoted above repeat the fact that Princess Michal was King Saul’s daughter.)

Not long after this strange reunion, David had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem, his new royal capital. On that day Michal despised him for deigning to join in a sacred dance before the holy object that symbolized God’s presence. Her scornful words called forth an equally hot reply from David.

The Bible records that when ten of David’s concubines or secondary wives were violated by another man, the king still “provided for them, but . . . they were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows” (2 Samuel 20:3). Something like that must have happened to Michal after her bitter quarrel with King David, for the ancient narrative states that she never had a child.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation gives brief glimpses into the strange career of Princess Michal, as retold in the swinging rhythms of an old-time ballad:

Princess Michal’s fair and free!
Daughter of the king is she.
Now she sees a shepherd lad –
called for when the king is sad –
playing tunes to make him glad.

Princess Michal’s wild to wed!
David is her choice, ‘tis said.
Will he meet the king’s demand?
Fight until his warrior band
kills enough to win her hand?

Princess Michal plays a trick,
claims that David’s lying sick;
when they come to search his bed,
stuffs some goats’ hair there instead;
knows that he’s already fled.

Princess Michal’s forced to go
wed a man she doesn’t know –
far on Jordan’s other side,
there to be another’s bride,
long in exile to abide.

Princess Michal’s gone to pack:
David’s king, and wants her back.
Does the change call forth a tear?
Is her second husband near?
Is her first the one that’s dear?

Princess Michal’s voice rings free;
scornful of the king is she.
She in turn by him reviled,
thenceforth as a widow styled:
Princess Michal has no child.

O Father God, in Your mercy grant special protection to all of the willful, headstrong girls in Your world today. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas