Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus

Scripture Focus: Genesis 21.2-24
22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” 
24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 

Matthew 20.25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Reflection: Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
By John Tillman

Abimelek was a pagan king with his own gods and sinful practices. His descendants would be Israel’s enemies. Yet, he is one of a very short list of people to whom God spoke directly in a dream. (Genesis 20.1-6) Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

Rulers are established by God, (Romans 13.1-10) but establishing does not mean endorsing. Far from it. Rulers, good or evil, are used by God for good purposes, but every ruler will be held accountable by God.

As the “watchman on the wall” is responsible for the lives of those he serves, (Ezekiel 33.1-9) leaders will be held to account for evil, injustice, and violence under their rule. Whether evil is done at their command, committed by their followers, occurs through negligence, or merely remains unpunished, God will judge rulers.

Jesus’ assessment of Roman leadership is true of our leaders today. Indeed, most democracies around the world looked with rose-colored, Western-centric glasses, to the Romans and Greeks for inspiration in founding modern governments. They saw the ideals but not the dirty business and corruption that Jesus knew up close.

The disciples and the crowds that followed Jesus constantly thought Jesus would take over the government. Even right up to the moment of the ascension, they thought, “Now. He’s going to tell us to fight for him now.” (Acts 1.6-9) They were wrong.

Believers today who feel a religious compunction to political violence are serving an idolatrous, man-made religion, not Jesus. 

They are not following the same Jesus who left his disciples politically powerless. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his followers to wait for spiritual power instead of grasping political power. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his friends to put down their swords and take up their crosses.

God’s people have lived peaceably under governments of all different kinds. God’s people have been faithful under rulers with vastly differing degrees of personal morality, honor, and respect for God. 

No matter the morality or immorality of our leaders, Christians are responsible to be servants of a different kingdom and to exercise power in the opposite way the world does. 

It is in serving that we will lead.
It is in suffering that we will conquer.
It is in dying that we will live.

From John: Writing this two days away from the inauguration of Joe Biden, tensions are high. Suspicions of violence are in the air. Personal friends and former ministry partners may be among those sympathizing with violence against the United States government. It has been a week of personal mourning and lament. We pray today that all believers would be citizens of peace, submitted to their governments in humility and grace. Only in the proclamation of the gospel do we have leave to obey God rather than men. In all other things, we submit. 

Photo Credit: Tyler Merbler from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59) 
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Misleading the Least
Woe to leaders who mislead…cause others to stumble…manipulate…foment sin…lie and deceive…

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
It seems more and more Christians are willing to whitewash politically motivated violence as necessary self-defense.

Prayer in our Vocation

Scripture Focus: Matthew 20.25-26
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Reflection: Prayer in our Vocation
By John Tillman

In his book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis complains that he finds it ironically unhelpful to turn into a church for midday prayers.

There always seems to be someone practicing the organ or noisily going about cleaning and mopping. “Of course, blessings on her,” Lewis says. “‘Work is prayer,’ and her enacted oratio is probably worth ten times my spoken one.”

We have not held tightly to the concept of work as prayer. We see work as occupation—something that takes time we would spend elsewhere. Christians have the unique opportunity to see work as vocation—choosing to give to others on behalf of Christ.

To some, it might be a surprise that one of the primary definitions of the word “vocation” is a divine calling. One does not have to be a staff member of a church or an employee of a Christian ministry (or even a volunteer, noisily cleaning up the sanctuary and disturbing an Oxford don’s prayers) to turn grudging occupation into prayerful vocation.

One prominent example of prayerful, secular work is Fred Rogers. Despite the lack of overt religious expression on his show, Mister Rogers was an ordained minister whose specific assignment was to serve children and families through mass media. And serve them he did.

Paying tribute to Rogers’ on NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Faw said, “The real Mister Rogers never preached…he never had to.” Following his spiritual calling in no way interfered with Rogers becoming one of the most successful and respected television professionals of all time.

For every believer, the gospel is our vocation. We learn to express it through our occupations.

Rogers’ spiritual discipline and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit made his show a vehicle for the gospel without explicit language of faith. Many of our readers work in faith-negative environments where faith is unwelcome, but that doesn’t mean each action can’t communicate a gospel-filled love to others.

In our careers, we have a choice between the drudgery of meaningless tasks and the honor of serving others around us in Christ’s name. If we need a picture of what that looks like, it may be helpful to us to turn on an episode of the neighborhood.

May we make our work our prayer.

By every action may we pray for our co-workers, for our customers, for our city, and for our world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 6 (Listen – 5:10) 
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Needing Jesus to Pray
It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray.

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Free to Become Like Children :: Worldwide Prayer

Matthew 18.1-3
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: Free to Become Like Children :: Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

We often repeat our vision that God’s Word can be in our lives like a park in a city. There are many facets to that vision.

Parks bring many benefits to a city that are analogous to the benefits of regularly entering into God’s Word. But the one we focus on today, using the prayer included below, is on recreation.

There is benefit to approaching the Bible with a mind engaged in intellectual investigation. There is benefit to studiously engaging the scriptures in rigorous study. There is great benefit in committing the scriptures to memory.

But there is a special joy that can be found when we explore God’s Word as a child exploring a park, with no intention other than the pleasure of reading the words that our Heavenly Father has given us.

Jesus has granted us the ability to become like little children and to run freely to him. Run in his Word this weekend. Read the scriptures for the enjoyment of his presence.

The prayer below celebrates the freedom that the Father has given us through Christ, speaking, “yes,” over us, freeing us from the dictator of selfishness, and allowing us to become his people—his children.

A prayer of praise and thanksgiving from Germany
Lord Jesus, we thank you
That you have shared with us
The Father’s love
That you have entered the ambiguity
Of our history,
And spoken the Father’s YES
Into our lives.

Spirit of God, we thank you
That you have brought the riches of salvation
Into the poverty of our human experience.

We praise you, our God,
For calling us into existence,
For liberating us from our unbending self-will,
And for sharing your life with us.

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Source of our living, and hope in our dying,
Touch our life with your grace,
Set us free to become your people
And grant us the privilege of joining your passion
For the world.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.  — Psalm 119.145

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 19 (Listen – 5:33)
Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen – 2:39) Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59) Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about How to Find Freedom
What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love! — Thomas à Kempis


Read more about Prayer as Relationship :: Readers’ Choice
Many have faithfully lived out Christ’s command to let the little children come to him. But perhaps no one in history has lived it out affecting as many children as Fred Rogers.

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