Good News in Disguise

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S (Scripture): Acts 28:23b …many people came to the place where [Paul] was staying. From morning until evening, he explained and testified concerning God’s kingdom and tried to convince them about Jesus through appealing to the Law from Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe. 25 They disagreed with each other and were starting to leave when Paul made one more statement:

“The Holy Spirit spoke correctly when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,

26 

Go to this people and say:

You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;

    and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.

27 

This people’s senses have become calloused,

    and they’ve become hard of hearing,

    and they’ve shut their eyes

        so that they won’t see with their eyes

        or hear with their ears

        or understand with their minds,

            and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.

28 “Therefore, be certain of this: God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”

O (Observation): Paul stands trial in Rome. He does not try to escape this trial. He welcomes it, that he might share God’s Good News to all people.

Paul continues God’s direction: to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles! That desire to reach ALL people (even the Gentiles) is blasphemous to the Jews…but God never intends to exclude. God chose Abram, and blessed him and Sarai, and so they had been the first recipients of God’s love and mercy.

That love to the people who would become the Hebrew people (the Jews) was simply the first people to receive the gift. Through these people, God would show the world what steadfast love looks like: mercy and love is extended to God’s covenant people. And God wishes for more to become part of that covenant.

Paul reminds folks using Isaiah’s words that all people who wish to receive God’s covenant love are welcome to receive it. And if the Jews don’t want it, God also gives it to the Gentiles. See if they want it : )

A (Application): When you get a gift, do you fuss if it isn’t what you wanted? Aren’t you glad you got a gift? I know I can be picky sometimes, but receiving a gift you don’t want can be tough to handle. Of course, when relating to this text, God gives us what we need, not something that will be bad for us.

Sometimes the gift we get from God, while not bad for us, may not be what we want, nor what we expect! Sometimes what God gives us goes against every fiber of our being. We reject it at times, because we don’t want to face the reality that what God gives us will inconvenience us.

God wants to give me the gift of helping to be a part of a start-up ministry to serve homeless or poor folks? Won’t that cut into my family time or free time? But aren’t I thankful for what I do have? Can’t the ministry opportunity involve my family along with me, thereby strengthening our bond as a family unit AND inspire us in our faith as a family? Is this gift really Good News or bad news?

Facing the gifts from God can look like pure joy when we are facing difficulty. Facing the same gifts from God when we are arrogant and boastful may trouble us deeply. Either way, the Good News shows up at our doorstep.

May we be humble enough to receive the gift of the Good News and see how it guides us in times of plenty and in times of want.

[Disclaimer: sometimes, bad news is just bad news. Sometimes crap just happens and we can’t explain it. So, check yourself and check with others. If we all agree there is not Good News in that gift…then it’s not Good News. Plain and simple. The point is this: not all things that seem bad that show up on our doorstep are necessarily bad. But sometimes it just is bad. Never assume. Get friend and loved ones together to help you through it.]

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to accept the Good News freely given to us all. Amen.

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The Wounded Healer

(A nod to Henri Nouwen for today’s use of the phrase “Wounded Healer.” Thank you for the gift, Nouwen, of this concept. My reference to this work is implied in today’s post.)

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S (Scripture): Acts 13:26 [Paul said:] “Brothers, children of Abraham’s family, and you Gentile God-worshippers, the message about this salvation has been sent to us. 27 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders didn’t recognize Jesus. By condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Even though they didn’t find a single legal basis for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they finished doing everything that had been written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead! 31 He appeared over many days to those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people.

32 “We proclaim to you the good news. What God promised to our ancestors, 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it was written in the second psalm, You are my son; today I have become your father.

O (Observation): Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch, and Paul is describing to the God-followers there God’s salvation for the world. Paul hopes to convey to Jews and Gentiles (“children of Abraham’s family, and you Gentile God-worshippers“) that the salvation we all seek – and that God promised Israel – has come to fruition in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection matters as a fulfillment of what God promised and establishes hope for all people.

A (Application): Even when all the world rejects Jesus, God embraces him. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to think that God embraces us in our time of need. Anyone who turns to God in time of need can expect some sort of response – directly, indirectly, a sign…something.

Practicing listening to God’s voice and training your eyes to see what God is up to can take a lifetime. The people of Antioch need Paul to help them see what God was up to.

Now, you and I are to help others receive the Good News: hope for the hopeless, healing for the wounded.

P (Prayer): Lord, Heal us…that we might become wounded healers. Amen.

Jealous?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 70

1

Hurry, God, to deliver me;

hurry, Lord, to help me!

2

Let those who seek my life be ashamed and humiliated!

Let them fall back and be disgraced—

those people who delight in my downfall!

O (Observation): The psalmist seeks solace from the Lord in the face of those who wish ill thoughts on the psalmist.

Just seeking a little help in the midst of folks whose the author to fail.

A (Application): What is it about seeing someone else fail that gives us joy? Why is it so hard to see someone else succeed?

Assuming what the other person is succeeding in is morally in the center…why hope for failure?

Jealousy? Ego?

If so, it’s time to let it go. God has enough Good News to go around.

P (Prayer): Lord, let my jealousy go. Amen.

Point of Order

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S (Scripture): Mark 2:1 Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9  Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10  But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges the legal experts’ vision of God’s work. They saw God working through the legal system of the Law alone. They couldn’t fit this forgiveness of sins into their religious structure. (And thus, they couldn’t fit this man’s healing in, either.)

The physical healing of the man seems almost to be an afterthought for Jesus: he chose to forgive the man his sins, first. The physical healing of the man was almost nothing compared to the issue of forgiveness. However, Jesus does bring the man healing so that those witnessing Jesus in those moments might understand that in Jesus they can see that Jesus holds dominion over the physical and spiritual realms.

Jesus was ushering in a clarification of the understanding of God’s vision. He wasn’t bringing in a completely new system of belief, just bringing focus. The prophets of old were about bringing God’s people back in line with God’s vision. Jesus was doing the same here.

The legal experts thought that the way to forgiveness and holiness was through the legal system of purification and sacrifices. Not so, anymore. And this threatened the well-being and security of the legal experts. They thought that they had this all nailed down (sorry, pun intended).

Thankfully, the WorkingPreacher.org site has a commentary on this text that I found useful. Here is a quote:

Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly — and later explicitly — accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.

Jesus is lifting up human need above all…above ritual and adherence to the Law.

A (Application): What are we using our religion for? To hold dominion over people? To give us a feeling of superiority over people? To look down upon others to make ourselves feel better? To feel like we are in control?

What are we afraid of losing if our rituals or customs need to change so that we are reaching people?

The trick in discerning our way forward is figuring out what is Gospel and what is indifferent to the Gospel.

So many times we put in structures and traditions that are inconsequential to the delivery of the Gospel, and yet, we fight for these things.

Seminaries, congregations, pastors…what are we doing? Are we about living into the Gospel? Are we about being God’s hands and feet?

Do we have to run over people to deliver the Gospel? Or do we invite people to witness the Gospel in their everyday lives and report what they’ve found? Do we challenge our folks to discern where they’ve seen God? Do we coach our people in ways to see God?

The message has always been the same. And as the Church, we are good at covering up the Gospel and dressing it up in all sorts of forms and fashions. But the Gospel…the Good News is always…(wait for it…)…Good News! And the way to tell if the Good News is really Good News…is that it is ALWAYS Good News!

May you find the Kingdom breaking into your life this day with Good News…even if it comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.

P (Prayer): God, bring your Good News to us with great clarity. Amen.

This is Gonna Hurt Me More Than it’s Gonna Hurt You

  

S (Scripture): Revelation 10:9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take the scroll and eat it. It will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”  10 So I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it, and it did taste as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. 11 Then they told me: “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”

O (Observation):  God’s Word, on the scroll, tastes good to John (our author), but he knows that bitterness will come to him.  He is called to eat the scroll, and proclaim the news contained in that scroll.   

We recall Ezekiel’s encounter with God in which Ezekiel is called to eat the scroll that contains God’s prophetic words to God’s people (Ezekiel 3:1).   That scroll is sweet as honey to Ezekiel, and yet it is bitter to the recipients of the message.  

The prophecy will most likely bring sorrow and suffering, even though it is Good News. 

A (Application):  “This is gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you.”   That’s what rolls through my mind when we got our flu shots last month.  Something about seeing my child’s arm penetrated by a needle is just hard to take.   But I can handle it fairly well.  

Sometimes, the Good News causes us pain…because we’ve become comfortable in our sin.   The piercing blow is that we realize that God is no longer at the center of our identity…we are!   The money I spend on the things I want, the time I give to my desires, the gifts that lie fallow in my soul…God desires those.  But if my dollars and time and talents are currently being used for my own vain purposes, it’s gonna sting when I give them back to God. 

That’s a little thing called stewardship.  And it hurts.   Yet it’s good.   Good News can hurt, because it’s our reminder that God wants to be at the center.   And God alone.  

When God tells you to eat a scroll, may you do so willingly, aware that while the pain may come now, joy will come with the morning.  

What does the pain, the cross, look like for you?  What needs to be removed from the center of your being, to allow God back in?

P (Prayer):  Lord, we wish to eat the scroll, but we know that some pain might come.  Help us to recognize that the pain of the Good News is something that will be helpful to us in the end.  Amen.  

I Am Rich!!!

  S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 6:3 We do not give anyone an occasion for taking an offense in anything, so that no fault may be found with our ministry. 6:4 But as God’s servants, we have commended ourselves in every way…
6:10 as sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as poor, but making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

O (Observation):  Paul reminds the believers in Corinth about the way of the follower of Christ.  The way is not filled with worldly glory or honors.  In fact, as followers of Jesus, they will be persecuted and looked down-upon.  But they also have much to rejoice!

The world will return kindness and generosity with malice, taking advantage of those who are benevolent.   Because kindness is treated with scorn, Paul reminds them that will experience sorrow.   Yet, they will rejoice, because of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Their well-being is not tied up in earthly honors, but centers on the love of God. 

Paul reminds them that they will be poor, and yet possess the richest of gifts: the Good News of Jesus Christ, broken, died, and raised for you, me, and all of creation.  The gift of grace and redemption is the richest gift one can receive, and Paul reminds them that this gift is theirs to embrace and share.  Though materially poor, one can share the gift of the Good News, thereby making others rich. 

With no material wealth and a lowly status, one might feel empty and void. Yet Paul reminds them that the gift of God’s grace is everything they could ever need or want.  

A (Application):  Paul redefines for his followers what it means to possess wealth.   I don’t like to be earthly poor.   I don’t like my student loan debt.  I like earthly status. And yet, Paul reminds me that in Christ I have everything I need.  (Perhaps this verse has contributed to my being able to tithe on my income : ) 

And the knowledge that Christ gives me everything I need affects the entirety of my being.   This knowledge affects my satisfaction levels, my confidence, my parenting ability, my role as pastor, my financial situation, etc.   

My identity as a child of God is secure, because God has called me by name.  God handed Jesus over, for me.  God raised Jesus from the dead, for me.  God sent the Spirit to me in my baptism.  I am free.  I am rich beyond imagination.  

Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who God is.  

I’m the richest person in the world.  

(Now…back to paying down that student loan : )

P (Prayer):  Lord, rich or poor, you love us all, and can make us all wealthy.  Wealthy as a spiritual state of being, regardless of our earthly wealth.  Keep us focused on being wealthy IN YOU, only because we are recipients of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Amen.