A Scandalous Mercy

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 5.1-3
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 

Reflection: A Scandalous Mercy
By John Tillman

It’s easy to get desensitized to the scandalous mercy of God that he offers freely—even to the worst people we can think of. Naaman’s story brings all of that home to us.

God used Aram (modern-day Syria) to punish Israel. Naaman, an Aramean general, had led many battles and ordered many raids into Israel, winning victories against Israel’s wicked kings. He had killed many Israelites. He also took a captive Israelite girl as a slave for his wife.

In today’s terms, Naaman would be a warlord, a kidnapper, a human trafficker—a terrorist. He was one of Israel’s great enemies. This enemy, this terrorist, this slaveholder made another trip to Israel. This time, instead of violence, he brought treasures. He wanted to buy a miracle.

Imagine it happening today. Imagine one of Putin’s commanders arriving in Kyiv, asking to be healed. Imagine a Hamas commander arriving in Tel Aviv, expecting a blessing.

Israel’s king can’t handle it. He tears his clothes, thinking that Aram is picking a fight. Gehazi, Elisha’s assistant, can’t handle it. He chases after Naaman to make him pay. Centuries later, Jesus’ hometown crowd in Nazareth can’t handle it. When Jesus references Elisha healing Naaman over native-born Israelite lepers, they try to throw him off a cliff to his death.

The king couldn’t handle it because he suspected it was a trap. Not only did he believe it was impossible to heal Naaman’s leprosy, but he also believed a man like Naaman couldn’t make a sincere request. It had to be a scam, and he refused to fall for it.

Gehazi couldn’t handle it because he believed Naaman deserved to pay for what he had done. He couldn’t accept the injustice of offering mercy to a killer, even after his conversion to worship God alone. He wanted Naaman to pay and set out to collect that payment.

Nazareth couldn’t handle it because it short-circuited their selfishness. They loved the idea of “setting captives free,” so long as they were the captives and their oppressors were thrown down. But when Jesus implied that even oppressors could be saved, they tried to murder the former hometown hero.

The enslaved Israelite girl initiated the healing of her oppressor and enemy. Could you do so? Could I? 

God has mercy on whom he has mercy. Can we handle God’s mercy? Can we proclaim it to our enemies? Can we celebrate it?

From John: On the weekend the Israel-Hamas war broke out a member of our church who is from Israel led prayer. He prayed for peace, healing, and protection not only for Israel, but for people in Gaza. This is how we continue to pray. For cautious restraint of military leaders so that innocent lives would be spared. For peace and freedom for Israel and Gaza and all Palestinians. We pray that those with a righteous cause would pursue a righteous course, for the path of rage and vengeance never leads to peace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
He has not dealt with us according ot our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.
As a father cares for his children, so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. — Psalm 103.10-12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen 5:13)
Psalms 50 (Listen 2:26)

Read more about When God Has Mercy…Will We?
Jonah seemed to believe mercy should be limited to his own tribe and country while everyone else burned. How many of us are like him?

Read more about Radical Outreach to Outcasts
Jesus will say something that makes us want to throw him off a cliff in anger. He will ask us to allow someone in we would prefer to keep out.

The Promise of Justice

Scripture Focus: Psalm 49.5-15
5 Why should I fear when evil days come, 
when wicked deceivers surround me— 
6 those who trust in their wealth 
and boast of their great riches? 
7 No one can redeem the life of another 
or give to God a ransom for them— 
8 the ransom for a life is costly, 
no payment is ever enough— 
9 so that they should live on forever 
and not see decay. 
10 For all can see that the wise die, 
that the foolish and the senseless also perish, 
leaving their wealth to others. 
11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever, 
their dwellings for endless generations, 
though they had named lands after themselves. 
12 People, despite their wealth, do not endure; 
they are like the beasts that perish. 
13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, 
and of their followers, who approve their sayings. 
14 They are like sheep and are destined to die; 
death will be their shepherd 
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). 
Their forms will decay in the grave, 
far from their princely mansions. 
15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; 
he will surely take me to himself. 

Reflection: The Promise of Justice
By John Tillman

The Bible is the most grounded and realistic of holy texts. Scripture doesn’t blink when things go bad. It weeps. Biblical authors don’t shy from distressing realities. Cries for justice ring out in every book.

Modern people deceive ourselves that evil is only a disagreement about mutual benefits. The Bible knows that evil is real and people both cause and suffer from it.

Complaints and cries for justice come from an awareness of its lack. Deep down, humans know a moral standard exists. Those who deny moral absolutes cannot show that they lack anything. Without a moral ideal, no complaint regarding justice can be made. Without some measure of wrongness, there is no reason to expect goodness. How can a world with no absolutes be upset about evil? So you suffered or were harmed… Well, what did you expect? Who promised you something else?

Only amidst the Bible’s moral absolutes do we find a promise of justice.

We know, soul-deep and sinew deep, that sin exists. This is what it means to have partaken of the fruit. We KNOW evil. It looks good and tastes sweet, but soon, it cramps us up, doubling us over. The knowledge of good and evil sickens our stomachs and rumbles through our guts. We soil ourselves with it, and the runoff soils the earth, awakening Death.

The psalmist pulls no punches about death, the greatest evil of all. Death is the last enemy to be defeated. (Even though he has already lost.) Death treats rich and poor with perfect and efficient equity, yet every death is unjust to the Lord of life.

We work whatever justice we can on earth, but when death comes, human justice is insufficient. We cannot restore or repay, even with our lives, the loss of a victim of murder, cancer, starvation, Covid, or any other cause. But just as evil exists, righteousness does too. Whatever meager form of justice humans offer, Christ’s justice is incomparably greater.

Death’s victims need not stay in his grasp. Death’s grasping arms were broken in a wrestling match lost at the cross. Christ kicked in Death’s doors, opening the pathway to life for all who believe.

Like Old Testament sacrifices, human justice is not meaningless, and we must enact it, but it is a mere shadow of the justice wrought by Christ. We do justice, as we do all else, in remembrance of His promise.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen 6:17)
Psalms 49 (Listen 2:10)

Read more about Justice Starts Within
Justice starts within. It doesn’t stop there. May we answer the call…shining a light of justice and truth

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The Tale of Three Captains

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 1:13-15
13 So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. “Man of God,” he begged, “please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! 14 See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!”

15 The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king.

Reflection: The Tale of Three Captains
By Jon Polk

2 Kings opens with a story reminiscent of a classic fable: there’s a king, a tragic accident, a trio of warriors, and a wise sage on a hilltop.

First, be reminded of what a rotten king Ahaziah was. The book of 1 Kings ends with this unflattering assessment of his reign, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” His father was Ahab, widely recognized as the worst king of Israel, so Ahaziah’s apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.

Ahaziah suffered an injury after falling from the upper room of his palace in Samaria. He sent a delegation to inquire of the god Baal-Zebub whether he would recover. The messengers never made it to their destination, however. They were intercepted by the bold prophet Elijah.

Elijah delivered a stinging rebuke and prophecy to be relayed to the king. “You’ve rejected the God of Israel, so you turn to the god of the Philistines? You wanted to know if you will recover from your injuries? Be warned, death is coming for you.”

Incensed, Ahaziah asked who had sent the message. From the description, he immediately knew who it was. “Ah yes, that’s Elijah. Send a company of fifty men to bring him to me.”

The first company captain approached Elijah, now sitting on the top of a hill, with scorn, “Man of God, the king says to come at once.”

You can hear the mockery in Elijah’s response, “Oh, you call me a man of God? Well, if I am, may fire come down from heaven and consume your company.” And so it did.

The king sent a second company of fifty men. The second company captain called to Elijah with equal disdain, “Man of God, the king calls for you.”

Surprise, surprise. Second verse, same as the first. Elijah called down fire on company number two.

The third company captain took a decidedly different approach, “Man of God, please respect my life and these fifty men! We are your servants!” This time, Elijah acquiesced and went along to deliver his prophecy directly to the king himself.

How often do we approach God with the same attitude of Ahaziah and the first two company captains, demanding that our needs be met or our questions be answered? 

May we learn from the example of the third company captain who recognized that God cannot be ordered around. Let us approach God humbly, with respect, acknowledging our station as beloved children of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One. — Psalm 99.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 1 (Listen 3:13)
Psalms 45 (Listen 2:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 2 (Listen 4:26Psalms 46-47 (Listen 2:15)
2 Kings 3 (Listen 4:29Psalms 48 (Listen 1:28)

Read more about A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face
Are we any better than Ahab?
Do we surround ourselves with voices that only tell us what we want to hear?

Read The Bible With Us
God speaks to us through the Bible. What will you hear? Read with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

The Weakness in Evil’s Armor

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 22:30, 34
30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.
34 But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.” 

Reflection: The Weakness in Evil’s Armor
By Erin Newton

No evil act can thwart the providence of God. No person can go unnoticed by the ever-watchful eye of our Lord. Nobody hides from an omnipresent deity.

Ahab ruled over God’s people with an oppressive hand. Confident in his power, he ignored the prophet’s threat and wore a disguise to battle. He tried to control the situation and force a favorable outcome. Then by chance—no, by God’s providence—a stray arrow pierced the king and he died.

Evil leaders seem indestructible. They promote themselves as indestructible. Ahab certainly fit the profile. He was corrupt, deceitful, proud, and merciless. He would rather harm befall his peers. He tried to place the target on his comrade, the king of Judah.

The king shielded his weakness with armor, assuming the protection would be as impenetrable as dragon scales. But even iron-clad monsters are not invincible.

The Hobbit tells a story of Smaug, a dragon who set out to destroy the people of Dale. Cocky and boastful of his armored hide, Smaug taunts the people, “My armor is like ten-fold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears…” This prideful spirit is just like Ahab. But a weakness in the armor of king and dragon will be found.

In each story, a single arrow strikes in the smallest gap of the armor. The miraculous “once in a lifetime” shot is an arrow finding its target. For our story, it is an arrow guided by the almighty hand of God. The undefeated Creator of the world can bring down evil leaders with a slender stick and random human efforts.

Such is the providence of God. Scheming evil leaders assume they have power to hide themselves, control the circumstances, and escape judgment. The story of Ahab reminds us of the omnipotence of our God.

But some aspects of his providence are difficult to understand. What about all the prophets harmed by Ahab’s rule and Jezebel’s rage? Why could not that arrow have flown years earlier?

We simply do not know. And this leads us to the place in our faith that we must hold in tension: God’s sovereign rule and the continuance of evil. We know God despises evil and grieves such atrocities. We fill our hearts with pleas for justice and intercession for the weak.

Rest assured, no one escapes the will of God. Not even leaders who think they can hide. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? O mighty Lord, your faithfulness is all around you.
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face. — Psalm 89.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen 7:51)
Psalms 44 (Listen 2:44)

Read more about Kings Like Ahab
Ahab gets the most ink in Kings. He’s unquestionably wicked, yet God used and spoke to him frequently. Why?

Read more about Evil, Judgment, or Discipline?
Sometimes bad things happen as part of God’s judgment…as Johnny Cash sang, “…sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”

Sluggish Grief

Scripture Focus: Psalm 42:5-7
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
6 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 43:5
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Reflection: Sluggish Grief
By Erin Newton

In the movie, Paddington, one character reflects on his emotional journey of settling into a new place: “My body had traveled fast, but my heart… she took a little longer to arrive.” The heart can be sluggish during grief. It’s frustrating and discouraging.

I wish grief was a cycle; instead, it is a web. Our bodies are bound to the linear progression of time. We are moving from one event to another, but our hearts and minds are stuck in a tangled web of emotions and thoughts.

The repeated phrase, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” reflects this emotional tangle. The psalmist tries to soothe himself with words of counsel. “Hope in God…Remember the good times.” Oh, I’ve heard those platitudes from others. And I’ve tried to use them to urge my heart into better spirits.

But grief is not linear. The stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—don’t happen sequentially.

Psalms 42-43 show this type of tangled emotional experience. At first, we see the depth of sadness, “tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42.3). Then a joyous memory, “How I used to go to the house of God…with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng” (Psalm 42.4). Then the declaration of depression, “all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

The journey of emotional experience is like traveling across the mountains. There is the bright ascent to the peak, the crisp breeze, and clear skies. We gaze upon the view and see the other mountaintops, each basking in the pure sunlight. But to get there, we must descend into the valley, the dark woods.

Amy Carmichael calls this “The Ravine.” It is the painful memory of better days: “Yes, we were one of a festive crowd; was there any happy thing that we did not do? And we think of what used to be, so different from all that is now.”

Our minds know of God’s goodness, the joy of his presence, the hope of better days, but our hearts take a little longer to get there.

“We know that it is true. And yet there is something in the trend of our thoughts that is like the backwash of the waves, as wave after wave breaks on the shore…We have seen the lovely radiance of that upper air. But our feet must walk the ways of earth down that dreary hill, past those somber trees, and into the valley…”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 21 (Listen 4:19)
Psalms 42-43 (Listen 2:32)

Read more about Be With Me
The weight of our sadness reflects the hope of a beautiful life that has been tragically altered.
But we are not alone. God is near to the brokenhearted…

Read The Bible With Us
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