Sunday, September 11, 2011

"All Things?" Romans 8:28

It's been a great and powerful service so far this morning and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else!  In fact, why don't we just stop right now, go next door and eat and then go home?  I mean you can get too much of a good thing, right?  We could stop right now and call it a good day in the Lord's house.  Should I go ahead and preach?  I don't want to over-do it.

I used to work with an old man who was constantly complaining about how bad he felt.  He would try anything to get out of work.  One day he was passing through the shop looking like he was about to fall over.  I asked him what was wrong and he said his blood sugar was too low and he was feeling faint.  I told him to go to the office and get a coke and some candy in there and that would would make him feel better.  He came back through a few minutes later carrying a can of Diet Coke.  I said George, that doesn't have any sugar in it.  He looked at it and said, "Well, I don't want to build up too fast."  True story. 

Today I don't want to build anybody up too fast so I will start out slow.  We can slowly think about all the things we have to be thankful for.  Our church building, with a baptistry, God's grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, I could go on and on.  For what are you especially thankful this morning?  I'm thankful for all of these plus friends, family and country.

I hate to shift gears and kill such a festive mood but one would have to live under a pretty big rock not to know what the date is today and what it means to our country.  Not just that but one would have to be pretty blind not to notice that, even though we have so much to be thankful for, we have a lot of people right around us that are hurting.  In fact, it could very well be some of us here today that are suffering physically, mentally or spiritually. 

You don't have to read very far through a newspaper to see people that are hurt, abused, even killed, sometimes right in our neighborhoods.  I often wonder what kind of person could do such a thing to another human when even animals don't treat each other so cruelly.  How many times have you said, "What's this world coming to?"

I'll shift gears again and say what many of you have probably thought at one time or another.  "How can God allow things like this to happen?"  "Where is God when all of this occurs?"  Even, "Who does God think He is to cause such heartache?"  How could God allow or even cause the terrorist attacks on 9/11?  How could God allow Uncle Joe to get cancer?  I thought God hated divorce and yet my wife left me for another man.

Another gear finds us wondering about the hipocricy of Christians who quote the Bible as saying that God makes all things to work out good!  How can that possibly be true in our lives today?  How can the events on 9/11 ever be spinned to look "good"?  How can it be good that children are abused or starve to death?  What kind of God would allow such things?  Surely the Bible can't be trusted. 

We learned in our Wednesday evening Bible Study up here why that happens and that is because we serve a God of wrath.  Psalm 76, 21 and 78:  Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.  He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility--a band of destroying angels.  At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.

Is this why bad things happen?  Is God punishing the United States for our disobedience?

Those are valid and natural questions.  Some of which even have answers.  I hope to answer some of those for us today the only way I would ever be able to and that is to turn to God's word and let it speak.  Turn to Romans 8:28.

A little Scottish boy got in trouble for not eating his prunes so his mother sent him up to his room and said, "God is angry at you!"  Soon after the boy went to his room a violent storm erupted with thunder, lightning, heavy rain and even hail hitting the house very hard.  The little boy looked up toward the sky and said, "Gee, God, seems like a lot of fuss for a few prunes!"

We probably have all thought at one time or another that God was being harsh with us.  We know we're not perfect, but good grief!  Especially when Romans says everything will turn out good.  Well, that's were I want to start this morning by  looking at what this passage really says instead of what we think it says or what we want it to say.

It's interesting the way Paul starts this verse by saying that, "we know...".  To whom is he referring when he says "we"?  I'm sure Paul was talking about himself and the recipients of his letter but I also wonder if he might have been thinking about that "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12.  All of those in the faith hall of fame who went before Paul and are looking on as he writes this saying,"Yes, we know!" Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel and David all know without a shadow a doubt what paul is saying here to be true.

But maybe you are thinking that was all a long time ago and things have changed since then.  It worked for Paul back then but how do we truly know today?  Let me go over a couple other things that Paul and also John wrote that they knew and see if you believe these.

We know whom we have believed.

We know that we are of God.

We know that the Son of God has come.

We know that we have passed from death unto life.

We know that He abides with us.

We know that He hears us.

We know that we shall appear with Him in glory.

We know that when He appears we shall be like Him.

We know that if our earthly house were dissolved that we shall have a building of God eternal in the heavens.

So if you can believe all those you can believe what Paul is telling us in Romans 8:28.  But wait a minute.  I've lost my place.  I can't find the one where Paul says he knows that God will make us healthy.  You know, the one right next to where Paul says we know that we will all make a lot of money and always be happy.  Oh, well.  I'll try to find that later but right now let's go on to what it is that Paul and John and Abe and Dave and all of us actually know.

"In all things God works for the good..."  All things, not most things or all good things or all things that He causes but in all things God works for the good...

Nowhere is definition any more important than right here.  What is Paul really saying?  What does the word "good" mean and also who is it for?  Without understanding these one could misunderstand what Paul is saying and that's important because this verse is not for everybody nor is it saying what most people want it to say.

We can understand that the "good" that Paul is referring to here means spiritually good because if you read the verse in context, just a few verses later Paul mentions that we will go through trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword.  Are those good things as the world would define it?  Of course not.  So, when Paul says God works all things for our good he is talking about our spiritual good or making us more like Jesus.

Now, when I say that some of you are probably thinking, "Oh great.  I don't care about spiritual good.  I want worldly good.  I need some relief in this life."  And that's understandable except for the fact that this world is not our home.  We can expect to be mistreated here.  We can expect horrible things to happen because the king of this world is Satan himself and what does Satan prowl around looking to do?  Destroy you!

I mentioned earlier that this is not a promise for everyone.  In fact, it's not even a promise for all Christians as we see in the next phrase.  "...for the (spiritual) good of those who love Him".  Well, Todd how can you say that it's not a promise for all Christians?  Christians, by definition, love God, right?  Again, I defer to what the Bible says about that. 

John writes in 1 Jn. 5:3 – “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”

Jesus says in Jn. 14:15 – “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Oh, great!  Here we go again with obedience!  Yes, here we go again and I'm going to quit apologizing for talking about it.  The Bible talks about it all the time so I'm going by what it says and so if some Sunday I don't talk about obedience then maybe you better find out why.

That's the definition of loving God.  Not being a Christian.  Not being baptized.  Not coming to church or living a good life.  Are you being obedient?  What is God telling you to do today?  It may be big or small, crazy or boring but God expects you to be obedient even though you don't know how it is going to end or even what the next step is going to be.  But if we are not obedient, this promise is not for us.

"Those who are called according to His purpose" are those who have become followers of Jesus. 2 Tim. 2:8-9a – “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”

That leaves out a lot of people. It may leave you out. It leaves out the person you work with who has no interest in spiritual things but just found out she had her third miscarriage. God loves her, yes. God has a preferred future for her if and when she turns to Jesus. But Rom. 8:28 has nothing to say to her present heartache.

These conditions also leave out the really nice guy who lives next door to you, who you’ve been trying to witness to and been inviting to church, who lost his job several months ago and may be facing foreclosure on his house. When you tell him that God must have something better for him, it might make him and you fell better, but it’s wishful thinking. God doesn’t hold this promise forth to those who aren’t followers of Jesus, no matter how nice they are.

These statements might be surprising to you. But here is something that might surprise you more. Some Christians are even left out of this promise. If you’re living in deliberate disobedience to God in some area of your life, God doesn’t promise that he’s going to step in and fix the mess that your disobedience has created.

Just ask David and Bathsheba. Sure, David was forgiven. Sure, he was used by God to write Scripture after his sin. And yes, God brought some good out of their union in an amazing son named Solomon. But all in all, it would have been far better if David had never laid eyes on Bathsheba. Their firstborn died in infancy. David spent the rest of his life at war. His family was a dysfunctional mess. None of which qualifies as God’s wonderful plan for his life.

The beauty and promise in Romans 8 is not that the bad things will eventually prove to be a good thing. The beauty and promise of this section of Romans 8 is that no matter how bad things may get, God’s ultimate and eternal purpose in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose won’t be foiled.

Job says in 14:1, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."  That's good news and bad news.  The bad news is we will have trouble.  Good news is we have but a few days on this nasty old earth.  While we are here we can expect to have trouble.  Those of you that know me know that I am not a pessimist.  I'm not trying to bum you out and make you feel bad.  In fact, just the opposite.  Because I have the ultimate Good News and the only bad news is if you don't accept it.

There were nearly 3500 people who died in the terror attacks on 9/11 if you include the 19 cowards who hijacked the planes and there is nothing I can say to bring back a single one.  No scripture will rewind that day.  But for obedient believers God is working to make even those events work out to our good.  We may never see it this side of Heaven but when we get there God will welcome you with a "Well done good and faithful and obedient servant.  Now let me show you what I was doing in your life during that time."
Tim Keller gives us some insight. He points to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus is standing there with tears rolling down his face. Jesus isn’t smiling. He’s angry. He’s upset. Why? Because death is a bad thing.
Keller says, “Jesus wasn't thinking, They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I'm about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it's not. It's really a good thing! It's a way for me to show my glory.”
Keller points out that there is no place in the Bible that teaches us that bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. Jesus is upset because he hates death. He hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. But Keller says, “Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it [death] without destroying us.”
Here is my favorite statement by Keller on this issue. He said, “Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer, you'll become like him.”

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