2013 – Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Genesis 18: Sarah laughed within herself.
It’s been a long journey not only in distance but also emotionally and in time. When Abraham says he’s heard from God and that they’re to relocate Sarah’s likely both concerned and excited. The promise of bearing a son fills this barren woman with sweet anticipation. The journey has taken much longer than she ever thought it would. Twenty-five years have passed and the excitement and anticipation has given way to weariness and disappointment. Now Abraham has the nerve to tell her he’s heard from the Lord again and that the promised child will be born in about a year. She laughs and it isn’t the laughter of joy. Instead, we hear a hard, brittle laugh – laughing at the impossible. This, though, isn’t the last time we hear laughter from Sarah. A year later, we hear her laughing again and this time it’s the laughter of one who’s had a miracle of God happen in her life. This is such a happy occasion that the miracle baby is named “To Laugh” or “Isaac.” Here we see that God loves surprise endings, jokes with good punch lines. And his laughter is not silliness or useless. God loves to bring about happy endings. What laughter does he want to produce in my life today? As I trust him and cooperate with him, he’ll accomplish good things and bring a smile to my face.
Take away: The Lord delights in surprising us with good things.
Romans 10: Grand prossessions of people telling all the good things of God!
Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah all through this passage. In his day, Isaiah extolled the value of messengers who went from place to place proclaiming the message of hope to their generation. That, he says, is a beautiful thing. Paul is sorry that the people of Israel of his day aren’t the “message-proclaimers.” They’ve had every opportunity to play that role but instead insist on doing things their own way. They’re the losers in that. Now, I read this scenario and think about my own generation. Like the messengers of Isaiah’s day, the Church has Good News. We should be happily “telling all the good things of God.” All too often though, like the people of Israel of Paul’s day, we’ve retreated to our church buildings and busied ourselves with committees and programs, hanging our shingle outside inviting those want to know more to come on in. Beyond that, we’ve divided up into different camps, drawing lines and building walls. We’d rather argue over finer points of the Bible than go next door to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Isaiah reminds us that it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people take the Good News to those who need it so desperately. Paul, though, reminds us that it’s possible for those with the Good News to fumble and fail. Does this kind of thinking alarm us? It should.
Take Away: Who do I know who needs the Good News?
I’ve been included
Romans 9: They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them.
Big issues are in play here. Paul says that while the descendants of Abraham are the people with the promise of God that promise remains under God’s control. Even among Abraham’s descendants some are excluded and have no part in the promise. For instance, twin brothers (Jacob and Esau), before they’re ever born are treated differently from one another by God. One will be part of what God is doing in the world and the other won’t. Some Israelites have the idea that salvation is uniquely theirs because of their lineage. Paul says that’s not how it is. The only real decision maker here is God, so when some of Abraham’s descendants have tried to take the ball and run with it, making salvation their personal property, they’ve run head first into the Almighty who reminds them that this is his doing and not theirs. Israel doesn’t own salvation – God does. This is Good News for those of us who would otherwise be considered outsiders and ineligible for this wonderful plan of salvation.
Take Away: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
When it feels like the end of the world
Matthew 24: This is no sign of the end.
The “end times” information given in Matthew 24 is hard to understand. Some of it has to do with the generation Jesus is addressing in this moment. Jesus says, “I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for all of you.” Some of the stuff in this chapter has already happened. Still, we know that there’s been no trumpet blast and we haven’t seen the “one taken-one left” event take place. Part of the mix is that some events that feel as though they must be part of the end of the world are just common history. Jesus says reports of war, famine, and earthquakes aren’t signs of the “big event.” Of course, for those in the middle of a bombing, or facing starvation, or experiencing a major earthquake it may very likely be “the end.” However, when we hear of such things (and hopefully respond with Christ-like compassion to them) we’re not to panic, thinking “this is it.” Instead, God’s people are to trust him to be with us when we experience the painful side of life. We’re to stay true to the Lord even when we face opposition, and take advantage of the opportunity offered by unwelcome events to share the Good News with those who are desperate for some good news. I know it’s easy for me to sit in a comfortable chair and write this stuff and not so easy when the world feels like it’s coming apart. Still, if our faith is what we say it is and if it does for us what we say it does, it has to hold up even in the middle of the chaos the world sometimes throws our way.
Take Away: Not every horrible event is a sign that it’s the end of the world, but even in horrible events we can respond with compassion and hope as a people of God.
How wonderful to have a message of hope
Isaiah 61: The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
Through the years of his ministry Isaiah brings a variety of messages to his people. Often, his words are those of warning and condemnation. At other times, his sermons contain wonderful words of hope and comfort. That’s the kind of message we hear from him in this passage. Isaiah considers it an honor to be commissioned and empowered to preach good news to a people who are living as captives in Babylon. His message is one of encouragement to the poor and heartbroken; to those who mourn and wilt under the burden they carry. This message is so powerful that hundreds of years later Jesus selects Isaiah’s words to describe his own ministry. The message of hope is Isaiah’s and then it’s Jesus’ and now, well, now it’s mine. The proclamation of God’s favor, his healing mercy and grace, isn’t just Isaiah’s and, while it uniquely belongs to Jesus, I can lay claim on it too. For those in Babylonian captivity and for those today that are bound by sin, this is good news.
Take Away: In Christ, we have Good News for people desperately in need of some Good News.
Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news.
They live in darkness, separated from God and without hope. Then, off in the distance a light is shining. At first, it’s barely visible, but in time bright enough to create excitement in all who’ve longed for this darkness to end. Then, coming out of that light is a runner, silhouetted by the glow behind him. He advances toward them and the crowd gathers, wondering what’s going on. They then hear him shouting something and the broken people strain to hear his words. He’s shouting, “Good news, good news.” With the light brightening behind him the runner races into their still-darkened camp. The people are quiet as everyone gathers around the runner who shouts out “Good news” one last time. He then catches his breath and cries out at the top of his lungs: “God reigns!” At first the people are stunned, and quietly speak these words among themselves, “God reigns. God reigns.” Then, without really thinking about it, they begin saying those words in unison: “God reigns. God reigns.” The chat becomes a shout as hands and voices are raised, “GOD REIGNS, GOD REIGNS.” Their sins have separated them from God. It seems that all that’s left is darkness and hopeless death. Now, a new day is dawning, a day of salvation. God is once again stepping into their lives. “God reigns.” Thank God for messengers of Good News. Praise God, who is God, reigning in our lives.
Take Away: God reigns!
Guilt free living
Isaiah 33: Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.
Jerusalem is conquered, now condemned by Assyria to bow and scrape to those in control of their holy city. Isaiah promises that things won’t remain as they are. As the citizens turn back to the Lord, the Lord will turn back to them. The day is coming when the Assyrian tax collector will be gone and their new masters’ foreign language will no longer be heard in the streets of Jerusalem. It won’t be King Sennacherib who’ll be in charge, instead, Isaiah promises it will be “God who makes all the decisions here” and it’ll be God who’ll be king. Isaiah adds, describing his people, “Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.” This is such a wonderful promise. You see, the people hearing these words are really guilty. It’s their abandonment of God that brought this calamity on them in the first place. The good news is that the only One who can forgive them is willing to do so. It’s a great thing when God removes the “foreign kings” from our lives and forgives us our sins. One lady told me that when she confessed her sins and received Christ into her life that she “felt lighter.” In other words, having the sin burden lifted from her was just as real as if a 40 pound backpack had been lifted from her shoulders. Only God can make that kind of difference in a life or in a nation. The Good News is that he wants to do just that.
Take Away: How wonderful to realize that the only one who can forgive us our sins is willing to do just that.
A tale of four lepers
2Kings 7: Let’s go tell the good news.
The capital city, Samaria, is under siege and the result is a terrible famine. Things can’t get much worse there and people are being driven to horrible acts of desperation. Four lepers decide they have nothing else to lose. They’ll throw themselves on the mercy of the invaders. If they’re executed, they’ll die a quicker death than they would die by starvation anyway. When they arrive at the camp they’re surprised to find that there’s no one there! God has moved bringing terror to their camp. The mighty army has fled in panic not even knowing why they were running. The lepers have the time of their lives, eating their fill and ransacking the place. It’s at that point that one of them says to his friends, “We aren’t doing right. Back in Samaria people are starving to death while we’re enjoying all this bounty.” This real life story is also a parable for Christians everywhere. Like the lepers we’ve discovered something wonderful. Meanwhile there’s a world that desperately needs to know what we know. Like those lepers, if we aren’t telling we aren’t doing the right thing.
Take Away: I found it, but I’m glad to share it with you.