The Beautiful Feet of Lepers

Scripture: 2 Kings 7.9
Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.

Reflection: The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
by John Tillman

One of the joys of regularly studying and reading scripture (Especially when following a reading plan of the whole Bible) is finding the treasures hidden in the forgotten places, the stories in-between the Stories, and the nameless characters that never had a flannelgraph made of them. Down in one of these forgotten, skimmed over cracks are four outcast lepers.

Most stories of lepers in the Bible end with them being healed but these weren’t. In fact Jesus singled out this era of scripture as a time when not a single leper was healed except for a Syrian raider. He was a foreign fighter, a kidnapper and enslaver of children, and in many ways a man we would consider a terrorist. Yet, two chapters ago Elisha healed that man, sending him home without extracting either financial gain or even promised reform. But these lepers at the gate of Elisha’s own city went ignored.

The four are outcasts between the besieged and the besiegers. Those in the city are struggling with the economic fall-out of a siege that is severe enough to cause the desperate to resort to cannibalism. In this climate, the outcasts decide that death by the surrounding army can’t be worse than starving to death, so they walk out to surrender and discover instead that the battle is won and the spoils are strewn about waiting to be picked up.

At first they gorge and hoard the secret victory they have found. But before long they realize what they are doing is wrong. The resources they discovered, the wealth they stumbled upon, and the good news of the victory they did not have to fight for must be shared.

We are these outcast lepers—forced to the margins of a culture hostile to faith. We are these unarmed conquerors—walking boldly into the abandoned camp of the enemy. We are these unemployable lottery winners—suddenly gifted riches we could never earn. We are these gorging celebrants—filling emptiness that no other meal could quench. We are these messengers with beautiful, leprous feet—staggering awkwardly to share good news with the city that cast us out.

We may be diseased and unclean but we share the undeserved victory we have discovered. This is the gospel—that terrorists can be healed and saved and the rejects of society can bring the news of salvation and the testimony of victory unimaginable to their city.

The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. — Psalm 43.3

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 7 (Listen – 3:55)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

Thoughts and Prayers

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2.1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Prayer is not a passive, calm, quiet practice. — Tim Keller

Reflection: Thoughts and Prayers
by John Tillman

In our world, there is now pushback against even saying that we will pray over a situation. Thoughts and prayers as a hashtag has become a philosophical battlefield where people of faith and people frustrated by people of faith clash about the efficacy of prayer and the pointlessness of faith without works. (The language is, of course, not that academic.)

This pushback is based on a cultural assumption about prayer and an assumption about those who say they will pray. The first is that prayer is pointless and can’t help any situation. The second is that those who say they will pray, will not actually pray, and worse than that, will not follow through with any actions at all.

The cultural version of this type of empty prayer is engaging in the equally empty gesture of clicktivism—liking or sharing a post about an issue, but doing nothing substantive to address it. In a way, those who are decrying thoughts and prayers are praying unknowingly—they are calling out, they know not to whom, for real, tangible change and action.

The culture Paul was in prayed a lot. Prayer was everywhere. But in no religion was it so personal and direct as in Christianity. The type of prayer that Paul practiced and taught confronted both modern and ancient cultural assumptions and was attractive, not repulsive, to his culture. How?

One reason we see is that the kind of prayer that Paul engages in is fruitful in creating action—good desires and the deeds that follow. Paul’s prayers were not just words, but will and work. According to Paul deeds are prompted by faith, and faith is fueled by prayer life.

It is our actions, growing directly from the cultivated soil of prayer, that bear fruit that our world will gladly partake of.

When we follow the lead of godly, broken-hearted prayer, we will find ourselves acting in undeniably loving ways (against which there is no law), seeking out the lost, marginalized, and broken with Christ’s love, and suddenly realizing that people are no longer repelled by our thoughts and our prayers.

The Greeting
Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments. — Psalm 119.164

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

A True Example of Repentance

Scripture: 1 Timothy 1.15-16
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Reflection: A True Example of Repentance
by John Tillman

Since Paul wrote 1 Timothy, a parade of feigned repentants has damaged our understanding of repentance and mercy. We often see repentance as a trick, even if we initially can’t resist being pulled in by it.

There’s one thing they can never resist and that’s a reformed sinner. — Billy Flynn, Chicago

Reporter, Maurine Watkins, famously based Billy Flynn on the real-life law partners, W. W. O’Brien and William Scott Stewart, who defended and gained acquittal for Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan, the real-life women upon whom Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart were based. Watkins’ barely fictional play, after her death, was sold and adapted. Broadway and Hollywood made Chicago a cultural touchstone.

What Chicago touches on—perhaps “shoots for” is a better metaphor—is our culture’s deep cynicism of repentance. The repentant politician, the repentant serial adulterer, the repentant murderer, the repentant addict—they are a syndicated show we’ve seen before; the reruns of a cynical joke we are in on even when the joke is on us.

Individuals, companies, leaders, and even industries wish to cheaply replicate the public relations (and sometimes legal) benefits of repentance without the moral investment of altering a single action or outcome. We want the caché of repentance without the change it brings.

Not only that, but when it comes time to grant mercy to a repentant, we are stingy. As permissive as our supposedly modern culture is, we are remarkably tribal about mercy. Members of our own tribes, whether religious, political, or racial are more likely to be shown mercy than those of tribes we’d rather continue to point fingers at.

Paul, however, demonstrates the power of true repentance that goes beyond a surface-level, placating facade; he teaches us about mercy beyond any that culture is willing to grant—even to allies.

The repentance Paul exemplifies and teaches is destructive to pride, selfishness, and our very way of thinking and living. This Gospel repentance is more than remorse, but reconstruction. It is fueled not by our own inner strength, but is activated when we admit openly our inner weakness.

We cannot fathom the mercy of God, until we experience repentance. We cannot truly experience repentance, until we see ourselves as Paul saw himself—chief of sinners. If our culture is cynical about repentance and doesn’t understand mercy, it’s probably because they need to see the real thing up close from us.

The Greeting
Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. — Psalm 25.3-4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

Christian Pagans and Disasters

Scripture: 1 Kings 22:23
“So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:9
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: Christian Pagans and Disasters
by John Tillman

Attributing disasters to angry gods is the theology of pagans. It is often a theological attack with a two-pronged, double dip of blame. Blaming the angry god is mere pretext to the true source of blame—the person or people who angered that god. The true source of blame in this view is human action and the true purpose of this kind of prophecy is to attack people with whom one disagrees. This theology has more in common with the theology of the 1990 movie Joe Versus the Volcano than it does the God of the Bible.

Unfortunately there are no shortage of Christians and Christian leaders who willingly share this theological ground with pagans. They can be found on news programs after a disaster, describing a distant, impersonal, yet somehow still moralistic god, who is vengefully punishing moral sins.

The idea that a country may be punished by God for its sins is not unbiblical. The God of scripture does use natural disasters and disastrous attacks by armies (or even wild animals) as judgment on the sin of individuals, leaders, and nations. However, on occasions in which God did so, he announced it ahead of time—with extraordinary specificity. Many times an opportunity for repentance was given by the prophet. Even odious leaders such as Ahab were given opportunities to repent and avoid judgment.

It would be wise for any current day prophets wishing to make some prophecy of God’s judgment to also keep in mind the penalty for false prophecies and instead simply cover their mouths.

The God of the Old Testament is the the same God-in-the-flesh we know in the person of Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit at work within us and through us. Justice is wrought by God’s love for us. His wrath is borne by His own self-sacrifice for us. The disaster that should strike us, He caused to strike Christ in our place.

As Paul says, we are not to treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all — holding on to what is good and rejecting evil. And it would help if we remembered that true prophecy comes before disaster, not after.

Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69:7

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

Praise and Adoration from Great Britain :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4.6-8
…in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

As this humble prayer lifts praise and adoration to God it recognizes that nationalism and faith in current governments, leaders, or other agencies of power is slavery. It is mercy and love for one another that we must fan into flame, not pride of nation or party. Pride’s only gift is in separating us from others, which is the opposite of our calling as ambassadors of the Gospel. — John

Reflection: Praise and Adoration from Great Britain :: Worldwide Prayer

Dear Father,

We praise you that we may draw near to you through the merits of Jesus, your Son, our Savior. We glorify you that your Holy Spirit continually moves in our world today. We bless you that your Spirit focuses faith on Jesus and draws us into fellowship with you and with one another.

Thank you Father for your transcendent love. Thank you that here and now we enter into fresh relationship with you through your mercy and grace. Free us from the shackles of nationality and insularity.

As we give you glory for all that you are doing through Christians around the world today, hear our prayers for one another and for those whom we represent. Fire us with your love.

Inspire our praise, our prayer, and our preaching with the gift of your Spirit and make us better ambassadors for Jesus.

We ask this in the Name of the Savior.

The Call to Prayer
Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.  — Psalm 95:1

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:19)
1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen – 2:24)

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