Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 18.12-15
12 I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. 13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!” 
15 Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” 

1 Thessalonians 1.4-10
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 

Reflection: Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression
By John Tillman

Two years ago we focused on the opposite methods of two men serving the same God: Obadiah and Elijah. They were united despite serving the same God in different ways. We pray today a prayer based on 1 Thessalonians 1.4-10 to remind us that we are brothers and sisters, called to follow Jesus even though unity in belief does not always lead to uniformity of expression.

Unity of Belief, Freedom of Expression
We pray for brothers and sisters loved by God, who do things differently than we do.
Those who vote based on one issue, those who vote based on another…
Those who draw doctrinal lines in the sand differently than we do…
Jesus has chosen us. His love and gospel unite us.

May we not hold “different” gospels or be swayed by eloquent words or human arguments.
The gospel unites us not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

May we live among believers and unbelievers, in ways that do not serve ourselves but, instead, sacrifice ourselves for them.
May we become imitators of the greatest servants among us…
Not the greatest blowhards, those so-called “leaders”…
Not those who use words to insult, harm, and slander… 

May we imitate instead those who imitate Jesus, 
Who take a message of grace and joy to the suffering
Who put aside personal gain to offer grace
Who hold out the gospel message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Let us be a model to believers in our cities, our counties, our countries so that the Lord’s message will ring out from where we are. 

May our faith make God’s message become known everywhere. 

May our loving, gospel-centered actions speak so loudly that we hardly need to say anything about it. May the report of us be that we received well our fellow servants and the lost who are searching for the hope we have.

May we turn to God from idols, so that idol worshipers around us can see how to serve the living and true God
We can assuredly trust that he who was raised from the dead is able to rescue us from any wrath, pain, suffering, or struggle that we face.

May we do so joyfully and in unity with those also called by his name.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” — Luke 6.26

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 18 (Listen – 7:08)
1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:27)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen – 3:53), 1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)
1 Kings 20 (Listen – 7:03), 1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)

Read more about Resisting or Assisting a Corrupt Regime?
We must remember that Obadiah and Elijah are not enemies. They are on the same side.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
May we learn to listen to “losers” and learn what God may say through them.

Christ the Enemy of Death

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 17.18
18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Colossians 4.3
3 Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15.26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

From John: Two years ago, on the day this devotional was posted, I spoke at the funeral of a young man who grew up performing in theatre with me since he was about 10 years old. He had died suddenly one night at 23 of a previously undetected heart condition. This left many asking if this was “God’s plan.” I wrote this partly in response to that question. Scripture does not make a strong argument that God meticulously controls and determines every event. Christians aren’t fatalists. And when it comes to death, God’s clearly stated plan is to destroy death, not collaborate with him. We can be assured that death, though it can be used for good, is not part of his “plan.”

Reflection: Christ the Enemy of Death
By John Tillman

God’s plan may refer to the unchanging will of God that cannot, due to God’s sovereignty and purpose, be overturned. This is true of God’s eternal purpose for humans to live forever in peace with God. Eden was an expression of this plan, and the new earth to come, will be the completion of this unchangeable and inevitable sovereign plan of God. 

God’s plan can also refer to God’s direction for a specific situation. God’s direction to Elijah to stay with the Sidonian widow is an example of this. This granular and finite definition of “God’s plan” is not equivalent to God’s eternal, sovereign purposes.

Elijah assumes, and we often do as well, that God dictates every death as part of his plan. However, God consistently shows through scripture that he is death’s enemy, not death’s co-conspirator. 

God makes it clear—throughout scripture but most directly through the actions of Christ—that death itself is not part of his “plan.” 

Death is used in God’s plans in the same way God uses many evil and wicked things, diverting evil purposes for righteous purposes. God uses the death of wicked individuals in his working of justice. God uses suffering caused by death to conform us to the image of Christ. God tenderly cares for his people during the suffering of death, as a part of his loving-kindness. In many situations in the Old Testament and the New, God reverses death, resuscitating death’s victims in miraculous ways.

We can be comforted knowing God hates death. He hates the long, slow death of old age. He hates the crippling, painful death of cancer and other wasting diseases. He hates the sudden and tragic deaths of the young. He hates death that rides on the heels of war, conflict, violence, injustice, and abuses of power.  

Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children. Death is an evil attempt by Satan to violate God’s eternal plans and purposes. God is, from chapter three of Genesis, working his will against death, advancing his purpose to destroy death, and preparing his people to overcome death.  

Part of the mystery of Christ that Paul refers to is he confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. He has defeated them both on the cross and the Holy Spirit, our comforter today, is our guarantee that victory over sin and death will ultimately be ours.

Christ is the deadly enemy of death.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Make No Peace With Death
The Christian does not make peace with death. Death is the final enemy to be defeated.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ exiting the doors of Hell itself…is often depicted stepping upon Death…The Anastasis—the Uprising—is the great jailbreak of God.

“Trivial” Sin

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 16.30-31
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.

Reflection: “Trivial” Sin
By Erin Newton

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” This was a funny line from Andy Bernard in the sitcom, The Office. But the essence is true; hindsight is 20/20. Good days are taken for granted and evil days are brushed off apathetically. We go through life without pausing to consider what is happening.

The previous chapters of Kings show the increasing wickedness of each successive king in Judah and Israel. Later comparison reveals a greater number of wicked kings in the northern kingdom (Israel) versus the southern kingdom (Judah). However, sin is not a comparative business. Both kingdoms were plagued with bad leaders. The story reaches a crescendo with Ahab, king over the northern kingdom.

Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah. These two deities were the common gods of Canaan. Seasons were thought to be determined by Baal’s battles with competing gods. Asherah was known as the fertility goddess. Self-mutilation, temple prostitution, examining animal entrails were examples of rituals done in the name of worshipping these gods. For Ahab, these were “trivial” and the people accepted it without a second thought. 

The reign of Ahab brought a resurgence of other voices in the history of Israel: Prophets. These courageous people stood up against the evil of their day to speak truth and call for repentance. Speaking against injustice and corruption is isolating and difficult. Those who spoke against leaders were constantly threatened. The price of speaking truth was often their own life.

One-third of the Old Testament books are prophetic. You might assume these voices were popular and common. On the contrary, prophets were rejected and few. Each story is a testimony of the cost of truth in a chaotic world.

Jesus also warned, “They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15.21).  Following Christ echoes the lives of prophets. Abusive leaders infect our world while brave voices are intimidated or attacked. Do we join the population or the prophets? To join the population, we abandon God and do whatever seems right in our own eyes. To join the prophets, we abandon comfort for the sake of truth. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8.36).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11 

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31)
Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
Ahijah says, “I have … bad news,” but we also bear the Good News. The gospel we prophesy is that tragedy can be reversed.

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Incomparable King and Kingdom

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 15.11-15
11 Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done. 12 He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. 13 He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 14 Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 15 He brought into the temple of the Lord the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

Reflection: Incomparable King and Kingdom
By John Tillman

1 and 2 Kings include summaries at the beginning of a king’s reign. Was he better or worse than the last king?

Kings did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” or they did not. Wicked kings are compared to wicked kings of the past. Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, is described as, “committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit.” Many wicked kings will be compared to Jeroboam until Ahab takes his place as the most wicked king of the northern kingdom.

We all love to compare kings. “Mine is better than yours.” “Yours is the worst ever.” How childish. Unless one is employed as a historian, these types of statements are not only immature but are typically shaped by partisan narratives rather than facts. 

The narrator of scripture is uninterested in the types of comparisons we make. These stories are not the whole story. After each, we find a statement similar to “and as for all the other events of his reign… are they not written in the books of the annals of the kings” etc. In other words, the narrator is telling us that scripture is concerned with higher and greater things than economic policy or political intrigue. Those details are only mentioned if they further the purpose of the writer.

Scripture’s accounts of kings are focused on the only statistic that matters—righteousness.

When we come to these works, we should evaluate ourselves (and our kings) with sober judgment, (Romans 12.3) asking the same questions biblical authors asked:
Did they establish justice? 
Were they faithful to God? 
Did they care for the poor? 
Did they worship with a pure heart?

We fall short. Every leader does. There is only one incomparable king who accomplishes all these things—Jesus. When he is introduced, the angels report, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” (Luke 2.14) When he begins to establish God’s kingdom, God says, “This is my son in whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3.17; Mark 1.11) At his transfiguration before his closest disciples, God said of him, “This is my son…listen to him.” (Matthew 17.5; Mark 9.7; Luke 9.35)

May we be fully devoted to him, like Asa. And like Peter, James, and John, may we listen to him, please God by following him, and announce to humanity that peace and goodwill are available in his incomparable kingdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” — Luke 12.32

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 15 (Listen – 5:30)
Colossians 2 (Listen – 3:27)

Read more about Our Forgetfulness, God’s Faithfulness
Just one generation before, God’s people had been faithful and obedient to him. Yet within a short time, Israel abandoned God.

Read more about Our Sins Ever Before Us
Confessions rarely come without confrontations. We must see our sins before us, before we can put them behind us in repentance.

Kingdoms Breaking Bad

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 14.14-16
14 “The LORD will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam. Even now this is beginning to happen. 15 And the LORD will strike Israel, so that it will be like a reed swaying in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they aroused the LORD’s anger by making Asherah poles. 16 And he will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.” 

Reflection: Kingdoms Breaking Bad
By John Tillman

Watching a comedy we often imagine ourselves as the bumbling, yet eventually triumphant hero. Watching tragedies, however, we tend to disassociate from the hero. We judge them harshly, thinking we would have done differently.

The show Breaking Bad is one example. Audiences loved Walter White and mistook him for a system-challenging anti-hero and they identified with him. Then, slowly, his character arc was revealed—the sympathetic hero who becomes a villain. Some fans felt betrayed. They wanted Prince Hal and got Macbeth. But it was all there in the title: “Breaking Bad.” How did we expect it to end?

Jeroboam’s story starts like a hero’s story. Like David, he was secretly told by a prophet that he would be king. When idol worship was expanding in Solomon’s kingdom, Ahijah pulled Jeroboam aside, telling him that he would be king because of Solomon’s sins. Representing the fracturing of the nation, Ahijah tore his new cloak into twelve pieces, giving Jeroboam ten of them. (1 Kings 11.29-31)

But this story is a deep tragedy. Near the end of Ahijah’s life, the blind prophet could see the bloody end of Jereboam’s dynasty. For generations, Jeroboam’s name would become a byword for biblical authors to measure the evil of kings to come. 

As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.” Ahijah prophesies to Jeroboam that it will all end in death and exile.

Ahijah ministered in a country going bad fast and with worse coming over the horizon. 
Through Ahijah’s words, we hear God’s frustration with Jeroboam and his other chosen instruments. 

Like Ahijah, we may serve in a nation or a time when leaders rise with promise and fall with the shattering clamor of scandal. It is still possible to serve God faithfully amidst political corruption, idolatry, and a culture that rejects God. The prophets prove it.

Ahijah says, “I have … bad news,” but we also bear the Good News. Our God is slow to anger, gracious, and forgiving. He pleads with those who reject him to repent. 

The gospel we prophesy is that tragedy can be reversed. Those with ears to hear and eyes to see can come and be saved. Those doomed to ruin can be restored. Those exiled can come home. Those who have been harmed can be healed. Those dead can be raised to life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever; “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:22)
Colossians 1 (Listen – 4:18)

Read more about Uprooting and Replanting
We the unworthy and unrighteous can be replanted into a new kingdom of peace.

Read more about Prepare for the End
Christians are sometimes guilty of looking forward to the apocalypse like a private revenge fantasy.

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