A sermon preached on Sunday, February 6, 2022, The Fifth Sunday of The Epiphany, at Christ Church Greenwich, Connecticut, by Priest Associate the Rev. Terence L. Elsberry.
The same thing happened to me twice this past week. Two people at very different stages in their lives—a man in his nineties and a woman half his age–said basically the same thing: “I’m so tired of all this bad news we keep hearing. Everything’s bad news. I need some good news.”
Another friend calls it bad news fatigue. Too many problems in the world, in our nation. Too many shootings, too many natural disasters, too much Covid, too much anger.
Sometimes, as one of my friends said, we need a break. We need to find some good news to focus on, good news to counter the bad. Fortunately for us, as God’s people, we have good news. It’s in the Bible. The word Gospel means good news. The Old Testament, too, is packed with good news—the many promises of God.
I grew up being told by my parents that the Bible was our primary resource for living. My mother read her Bible every day. She especially loved a hymn about the Bible we used to sing in our little country church: “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.”
We used to laugh about a great grandmother who wrote in the fly leaf of her Bible: “This book will keep you from sin. Sin will keep you from this book.” Kidding aside, my mother always said the Bible proves the Lord’s love for us.
It does more than that. If you look, you can find in God’s Word guidelines for living the life He wants us to live. It’s a life packed with good news.
If you want to counter the bad news we hear about and see around us, go to your Bible. Here we have positive promises and guidelines with the power and the authority of the Most High. He doesn’t want us to live lives sunk in depression, shrouded in a fog of negativity. As the Bible tells us: “New every morning, great is Thy faithfulness.”
Our God is the God of opportunity, the God of hope, the God of GOOD news.
He’s not calling us to deny the reality of the darkness. He’s calling us to look for His light in the midst of it. The Bible shows us how.
Start looking and you’ll find His response to your every problem, trouble, and concern.
I feel tired, low energy.
“Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary.” (Isaiah 40:31)
I worry too much.
“Thou will keep them in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” (Isaiah 26:3)
I’m feeling overwhelmed.
“The Lord is our strength and our song.” (Exodus 15:2)
Finances are tight.
“My God shall meet ALL my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
Having conflict in a relationship.
“Put on love. Love binds us together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)
I’m having a hard time forgiving that person.
“Wisdom gives us patience. It’s to our glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
I’m feeling lonely.
“I am with you. Always.” (Matthew 28:20)
I’m in trouble.
“God is our shelter and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46)
I’m feeling isolated.
“I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5-6)
The world’s a mess!
“Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I’m feeling overwhelmed.
“Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
I don’t feel close to God.
“Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
You may say, “That’s all well and good, Terry, but reading these promises, knowing they’re in the Bible, is one thing. Actually, applying these good news lessons to daily life seems very different. How do I make it happen? How do I really LIVE the promises of God?”
One of my mentors for living the Christian life was a minister I met while I was living in Atlanta. His name was John Hamrick. He was a giant bear of a man with white hair and sparkling eyes and a deep base voice. When you heard that voice, you had to listen.
I remember what he said to me one day. He said, “Terry, there’s a difference between knowing the scriptures and LIVING the scriptures.”
I asked him what he meant. That day he introduced me to a concept I’d never heard of. It’s called “Praying the Bible.” What that means is you don’t just read the Bible, when you find verses that apply to a particular situation, to your point of need, you personalize them, you actually turn the words into a prayer that address the problem.
For example, these words from Romans 8:37: “In all these things we have victory through him who loved us.”
Take this statement and turn it into a prayer: “Lord, you tell me I have victory in all things through you. So please give me victory in this situation I’m dealing with. Thank you, Lord.”
Here’s one you don’t have to change. It’s already a prayer. If you want to be in God’s will for your life—and we should all want that–pray these words of David in Psalm 25 verse 4: “To you, O Lord, I pray. Show me the path where I should go, O Lord; point out the right road I should walk. Lead me; teach me, for you are the God who gives me salvation.”
Most of us know, as I did when John Hamrick shared this insight with me all those years ago, that the Bible is many things. It’s a repository of spirituality, theology, philosophy, history, biography, great prose and beautiful poetry. Most important, it tells the story of Jesus and salvation. But if you’re like I was, you may not have seen the Bible as a guidebook for living.
Yet as my friend told me, what better way to be sure that when we pray we’re praying according to the Lord’s plan for us than to pray HIS words?
It works. I know it does. I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen it with others.
Several years ago, a man came to see me because his business was failing. He was a real estate salesman and every time he was about to close a deal something would blow the deal. He was getting desperate. He was concerned for his family, for their future. His self-esteem was shot. He felt like a failure.
I listened. We prayed together. I told him about praying the Bible. When he left, I wrote on a card these words of Paul’s, from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I told him to make Paul’s words his prayer. “Lord, you tell me I can do all things through you. Please help me start closing these deals.”
He took the card, left my office. He said thanks, but he looked dubious. A few weeks later he called. He said, “It works! I’ve made two deals! It works!”
Try praying God’s word. It worked for him. It has worked for me and a lot of other people I’ve known through the years.
Make the good news a living reality.
Near the end of her life my mother had a form of dementia. She was conscious and she knew people, but her short-term memory was impaired. Finally, she lost her ability to speak.
The last time I went home to see my parents before she died, I walked into her room in the care facility. She couldn’t say anything, but tears rolled down her cheeks. I hugged her. Her eyes lit up as I told her all our family happenings. I savored the time we had. Finally, I had to go. I gave her a last hug and ran out so she couldn’t see me cry. But before I left, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. On her bedside table was a Bible. A contemporary version. The title on the cover: “GOOD NEWS.”