Work, Ministry, and Generosity

Scripture Focus: 2 Thessalonians 3.7-9
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.

From John: The Park Forum has nearly always been a bi-vocational ministry and remains so. We are so thankful for our donors who continue to make this ministry possible. Follow this link to leave a note saying “thank you” to our donors such as the one below from David.

“I would like to thank each donor who has helped make Park Forum available to us in 3rd world countries surrounded by such great needs.” — David, South Africa

Reflection: Work, Ministry, and Generosity
By John Tillman

Paul lived differently among different groups determined by their maturity, their cultural influences, and their spiritual needs. Among some groups, he accepted and deeply relied on financial support. Among some groups, he paid his own way and worked in a secular trade in addition to serving the gospel. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people…” for the sake of the gospel.

Among the Thessalonians, Paul accepted no financial support, perhaps due to the fact that they were under greater persecution and hardship than others, or perhaps simply because he felt they needed the example of his hard labor. Paul served the Thessalonians, not only with his ministry work but with his “secular” work and using the gifts of other churches. 

The question for believers is, which church are you? Are you receiving ministry funded by others or are you supporting ministry to others in need? The answer may be “both” or the answer may change as your circumstances change.

Many ministers, especially bi-vocational ministers, feel deeply these words of Paul, “we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” Pray this weekend especially for pastors and ministers who are laboring to serve the gospel—many of them bi-vocational, working one or more secular jobs to support their ministry. Consider your level of financial support for those ministries to which you are connected.

For those who are financial supporters of their churches and other ministries, giving can be a way of bringing greater meaning to the workplace. Work of any kind is already a holy endeavor for the Christian as we are commanded to work “as unto the Lord.” But if one is donating a certain percentage of one’s income, then as one goes through the day’s work, one can prayerfully remember, as each hour passes, the percentage of that hour that is being given over to support Christ’s work in the world.

Spiritual growth always has a purpose that we become more like Christ. As believers, our generosity is just one area in which the Holy Spirit may challenge us to grow. Financially supporting ministry work connects us more closely to the work and ministry of Christ. Growing in giving causes us to be made more into the image and pattern of Christ. Generosity transforms our work into an instrument for cultivating faith—planting seeds for the spreading of the gospel of Christ. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

But you, O Lord my God, oh, deal with me according to your Name; for your tender mercy’s sake, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. — Psalm 109.20-21

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17), 1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13), 1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

Read more about How to Know When to Give
As the Corinthians’ generosity caused Paul to celebrate, may our generosity bring joy and refreshment to those doing good in the world.

Read more about The Context of The Widow’s Mite
The bright light of the widow’s faith shines within the darkness of hypocrisy and abuse.

Christ, Our Double Portion

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 2.11-14
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Reflection: Christ, Our Double Portion
By John Tillman

Before parting the Jordan river to recross it, Elisha asked, “Where now is the God of Elijah?”

Elisha was present for much of Elijah’s ministry. He knew he was following and learning from a legend. The entire prophetic community seemed to realize that this legend would soon be taken by the Lord.

We often connect God’s presence with the presence of people who taught us about him or who have been faithful to him. Elisha said, “the God of Elijah.” We may think about the God of our parents or our pastors or other faith leaders. Elisha pushed away discussion with his fellow prophets of Elijah’s departure. We may push away thoughts of losing people upon whom we have relied. 

When Christian heroes, mentors, or friends pass, we often have an emotional and a spiritual reaction. We dread losing these voices. Will God be with us like he was with them? Will God work in our lives in the same way he did through them?

Many of us have looked around and wondered, “Where is the God of the past?” Will he show his power today as he did then? Like Gideon, we question God based on our circumstances. (Judges 6.13) Like Elijah, we question God’s support. (1 Kings 19.14

God answers Elisha by parting the Jordan. Elijah’s God is with Elisha and is still our God today. God is with us now, regardless of what past leader has died, has failed, or has fallen into sin. God is our God and we are his prophets and priests in the world.

The cloak Elisha picked up was not dropped by accident. It was meant for him. It was his anointing. Elijah threw it over Elisha’s back as he plowed to call him away from a simple life of farming into the dangerous employment of prophesying to wicked kings. (1 Kings 19.19)

The “double portion” that Elisha asked for is ours in Christ. Our mantle and anointing is the Holy Spirit of God which has been laid on our shoulders. Like Elisha, we have been called from plowing hardened earth to prophesying to hardened hearts. Like Peter, we are called from spreading nets for fish to spreading the gospel to people.

Elisha wasn’t called to be Elijah but to be God’s. We have the same calling. Be God’s.

Music: Elijah, by Rich Mullins. (Rich Mullins often signed autographs, “Be God’s.”)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

Read more about Ahab and David
God will have mercy whenever there is true repentance. Persevere in sharing the gospel with the strength and boldness of Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha.

Read more about Over Jordan
In transition from Moses to Joshua, from Elijah to Elisha, and from John the Baptist to Jesus, the Jordan symbolizes a change in leadership.

Muscle Memory

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 1.16
He told the king, “This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?

Reflection: Muscle Memory
By Erin Newton

Anything we do repeatedly becomes muscle memory. Without thinking our body moves out of habit. We learn new skills intentionally or subconsciously through our environment. For many, our upbringing shapes how we react: good and bad.

Ahab had died and his son Ahaziah took the throne. He was no better than his father and was listed among the evil kings of Israel. He was a product of his environment, raised by parents who delighted in persecuting others. But now, Ahaziah was critically injured. Fearful and uncertain, he looked for answers. Just as he was raised, he avoided God and looked to the idols.

God warned Elijah of the king’s sin. The prophet condemned Ahaziah for looking for hope outside of God. With the king’s life in the balance, death was proclaimed. The prophecy was fulfilled. Ahaziah adopted the sinful behavior of his father and suffered the same tragic death.

For generations, the kings had increasingly turned aside from following God. The habit of seeking one of many foreign idols had become instinctive. Each new king was further desensitized to wickedness. The call of the prophet was to speak truth to deaf ears trusting someday one would finally hear.

Our spirit has “muscle memory” of sorts. Our heart is shaped and trained by our thoughts and actions each day. If the heart is daily practicing hate, gossip, jealousy, rage, divisiveness, or lust, that will become the natural impulse. Professional golfers to hobby knitters all know the importance of practicing the right way of doing something. In the same way, our hearts must be trained to seek God.

Breaking away from old habits can be extremely difficult. Christians are told to be devoted to prayer, encourage one another, continue meeting together, and study the Scriptures. Each of these are daily routines that build spiritual habits. The spiritual disciples keep the heart sensitive to wickedness and open ears to hear the truth.

How can you incorporate new practices in your life that will develop a heart for following God? The commute to work can include moments of prayer. The wait before a doctor’s appointment can be used to read a few verses. The silence of the shower can be an oasis of meditating on truth. Little by little, we discipline our hearts and minds toward godliness, or we create habits that work to destroy our lives.

“…train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4.7b)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)

Read more about Milk of the Word, A Precedent to Growth
Even the simplest of disciplines, church attendance, has been in decline since 1959. We can’t, therefore, blame millennials for it.

Read more about For Sustainable Cultivation
Oh, God, planter of the first garden, cultivator of all creation,
We ask you to teach us to cultivate our hearts.

A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 22:6-8
6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Reflection: A King’s Vanity and a Slap in the Face 
By Jon Polk

It’s official. Ahab was the worst king of Israel.

The stinging indictment is made in 1 Kings 16, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”

Why does Ahab deserve this dubious distinction? Aside from implementing Baal worship and the shocking murder of Naboth, Ahab was notorious for antagonistic relations with God’s prophets.

Ahab tussled with Elijah on several occasions, but 1 Kings 22 records an encounter with the sharp-tongued Micaiah. The scene opens with Ahab attempting to convince king Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in attacking Aram to reclaim the land of Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat suggests that they seek God’s counsel, so Ahab calls in all 400 of his official prophets.

Led by the overly dramatic Zedekiah, who had crafted iron horns representing victory, the king’s prophets unanimously proclaimed that the Lord would give the land to Ahab in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not convinced and saw through the blatant pandering of those false prophets. He asked if there were still any true prophets around. 

Ahab’s response sums up his desire to be surrounded by “yes” men. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me.”

That prophet, Micaiah, is asked if they should go to war. He quipped sarcastically, “Sure, go ahead, attack and be victorious,” prompting Ahab to insist that Micaiah actually tell him the truth from God.

So he did: War with Aram will not end well, Israel will be sacked, Ahab will be killed, and by the way, all those other prophets were filled with a deceiving spirit.

Micaiah’s prophecy of doom earned him a slap across the face from the sanctimonious Zedekiah.

Alas, the king decided to make war anyway, and, lo and behold, everything happened exactly as Micaiah said it would.

Are we any better than Ahab, with our echo chambers of social media reinforcing only those opinions and attitudes that we want to believe? Do we find enjoyment in metaphorically slapping the faces of our opponents, real or imagined? Do we surround ourselves with voices that only tell us what we want to hear?

Let us learn from the foolish Ahab that we must not only be able to discern truth from error but we should also not discount the voice of God simply if it comes to us from sources we may find disagreeable. Let the hearer understand.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

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

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

Read more about “Trivial” Sin
Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah…For Ahab, these were “trivial”

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.”

Ahab and David

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 21.20-21, 25-29
20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!” 
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.

25 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.) 
27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 
28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Reflection: Ahab and David
By John Tillman

David is the prototypical king to whom Judah’s kings are compared. Israel’s kings will be compared to Ahab. Ahab’s murder of Naboth has some interesting parallels to David and the murder of Uriah: 

The king sees something that he wants near his palace. 
What the king wants is a violation of the commands of God. (Naboth appealed to Moses’ command not to sell one’s inheritance: Leviticus 25.23.)
Conspirators are recruited by letter.
A loyal citizen is killed by treachery and the crime is covered up.
The king swoops in to take possession of the object of his lust.
The king does all this when he has plenty of vineyards (in David’s case, plenty of wives) of his own.
God sends a prophet to confront the king with his crime and pronounce a harsh judgment. (David’s child will die. Ahab and all his children will die.)
The king repents and mourns in humility, wearing sackcloth and fasting.

Both men receive a measure of mercy from God, and both men suffer a judgment from God that is not removed.

In David’s case, the child conceived with Bathsheba dies, but David does not. (1 Samuel 12.13)
In Ahab’s case, the only mercy from the Lord is that the utter destruction of Ahab’s family will happen after Ahab himself dies. Ahab doesn’t truly seem to have fully repented (He later condemns Micaiah to punishment for prophesying his death) and perhaps this is why the mercy he receives is quite limited.

Ahab has moments in which he seems to show remorse or to acknowledge God, but they are few. He knows God’s true prophets by name, but holds some of them in prison, such as Micaiah. Rather than the friendly relationship David had with God and his prophets, Ahab considers Elijah his “enemy.”

Ahab and Jezebel are, to this day, synonymous with evil rulers. Yet even Ahab, the wickedest of wicked kings, obtained a measure of mercy from God when he showed humility and grief. 

There is, shockingly, no one so far gone that God won’t respond when they truly humble themselves. There is no one so evil God can’t forgive. There is no one so wicked that there is no hope.

God can break through and will have mercy whenever there is true repentance. Persevere in sharing the gospel with the strength and boldness of Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha.

Divine Hours Prayer: 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 Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

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

Read more about More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
Give us more and less, Father… 
More of Christ’s love for others less of our love of self.

Read more about Incomparable King and Kingdom
Many wicked kings will be compared to Jeroboam until Ahab takes his place as the most wicked king.

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