“For the good..”

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. –Romans 8:28-29

Sometimes things just have a way of sticking with you. A thought will hang around you like a gnat that just buzzes and buzzes in your ear. My mind can be like a dog with a bone, just determined to gnaw its way through until the entire thing is devoured. I became reacquainted with Romans 8:28 a few months ago. It came up during a conversation with God about fear of the hard things in life. This conversation was leftover from some dealings that God and I had around Christmas time where I had to ask myself if I really trusted Him no matter what happened to me or those that I care about. And now I warn you that the rest of this post is going to go in a direction that most people are uncomfortable with. I am going to talk about some things that do not conform to the image of God we create for ourselves. (Reference the blog on God’s Prerogative.) And I will admit that at first, I was a little uncomfortable with this as well. However, I am very loyal to God. Sometimes I am loyal to being loyal if I am being honest. But I have yielded enough to the Holy Spirit so that he has grown me to the place where when faced with something that doesn’t fit into what I think I know about God, I will listen and admit that the error in understanding is probably on my part and not some flaw of God’s.So here in lies Romans 8:28 and 29. God works all things in our lives for good. That is a fabulous verse to cling to. It is like peace and comfort and sunshine and rainbows all right there. (John Owen would have many things to say about this, but that is for another time.) It’s like here is the go to verse when life is hard. But in our own ignorance, we don’t read and fully understand this verse. We can get a clue in verse 29. We are supposed to look like Jesus and not ourselves. We are wicked and self-loving through and through. There is nothing innocent or pure or good about us. (If that statement is troubling you 1.You are not alone but 2.you should address why that is bothering you with God.) And

So here in lies Romans 8:28 and 29. God works all things in our lives for good. That is a fabulous verse to cling to. It is like peace and comfort and sunshine and rainbows all right there. (John Owen would have many things to say about this, but that is for another time.) It’s like here is the go to verse when life is hard. But in our own ignorance, we don’t read and fully understand this verse. We can get a clue in verse 29. We are supposed to look like Jesus and not ourselves. We are wicked and self-loving through and through. There is nothing innocent or pure or good about us. (If that statement is troubling you 1. You are not alone but 2. you should address why that is bothering you with God.) And unfortunately, we are stubborn and hardheaded on the best of days. But most of the time we are rebellious, defiant and insisting on our ways. So the hope that we will conform to Christ’s image simply because we will completely surrender to God when faced with our sinfulness is pretty much just that…a hope. In reality, it takes the careful molding of God to change us into anything remotely resembling Christ. And He does this through the events of our life. Sometimes it’s little mundane things. Other times He orchestrates monumental happenings in our lives. Sometimes we are changed by God’s glorious provision and blessing. Yet other times, tragedy reshapes us into something beautiful as we learn the true character of God in our hours of greatest need. God is sovereign and His love is unconditional. “For those called according to His purpose”, He is not swayed by anything that we do or do not do. His aim is still the same. He continues to do what is best for us. And what is best for us is to grow increasingly more like Christ. It is best for us to become even more dependent on and trusting of Him. We like to think that Romans 8:28 means that God is going to handle every bad thing and turn it around for us. God will handle everything but He may allow it to be “bad” for awhile or even a lifetime in order to refine us and conform us to the image of His son.And this is where we tune out. We are guilty of creating extremes. Everyone knows someone or has seen someone who is out there on the fringe, real zealots who have perverted the Bible to fit their hatred filled, legalistic agenda. It’s why you see people who murder others in the name of God. That is wrong. However, it is just as wrong to create teddy bear version of God who does nothing but hand out blessings and favor. It is idolatry to create and worship a version of God who never chastens, never rebukes, never does anything to which you don’t agree. God is loving and gracious and merciful for sure. But do not allow those precious gifts to cause you to forget the very awesome and powerful God we serve. Do not castrate God and render Him impotent in your thinking. The Bible speaks to Him being a jealous God, one that will do what it takes to rescue us from the hands of sin and death. Do we honestly think that a God who would sacrifice His own son for the worthless bits of dust we are would just hang around and allow us to continue on in our sinfulness? Do we honestly think it is all peace and prosperity from here on out?

And this is where we tune out. We are guilty of creating extremes. Everyone knows someone or has seen someone who is out there on the fringe, real zealots who have perverted the Bible to fit their hatred filled, legalistic agenda. It’s why you see people who murder others in the name of God. That is wrong. However, it is just as wrong to create teddy bear version of God who does nothing but hand out blessings and favor. It is idolatry to create and worship a version of God who never chastens, never rebukes, never does anything to which you don’t agree. God is loving and gracious and merciful for sure. But do not allow those precious gifts to cause you to forget the very awesome and powerful God we serve. Do not castrate God and render Him impotent in your thinking. The Bible speaks to Him being a jealous God, one that will do what it takes to rescue us from the hands of sin and death. Do we honestly think that a God who would sacrifice His own son for the worthless bits of dust we are would just hang around and allow us to continue on in our sinfulness? Do we honestly think it is all peace and prosperity from here on out?

Paul was one of the most devoted servants of God. He understood so much more of God than most of us ever will (by of our choice, not God’s). And yet God rewarded His total devotion and sacrifice with suffering and trials. Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, jailed and ultimately killed for preaching the gospel, for being obedient. And this has happened since that time and continues to happen today. If this is what happens to Paul, one of God’s most devoted, why do we assume our lives should be any different? What prideful people we are! We live in this amazing country where God is so readily accessible to us. We can show up at church anytime we want. And not just any church, but the one of our choice. We are not beaten. We are not arrested and tortured until we recant. We are not killed or made to face any kind of recrimination for our faith. But millions of Christians in other parts of the world face this scenario every day of their lives. And we have the audacity to relish in our luxuries, our freedoms, our opportunities and then resist God? Why is it millions of others will risk their life to attend a secret church and yet we are afraid to share our faith for fear that someone will look at us funny? Where did we find this idea that life as a Christian is supposed to be easy, pain-free and glamorous? Where did this notion that real Christianity included materialism and status and comfort come from? Since when did loving and serving God become about being safe? Why has Christianity in America become equivalent with pursuing the American dream?

Christ suffered. He was beaten and tortured. His flesh was ripped from his body. He was mocked and spit upon. And the Bible says that we should not expect to be treated any better. Yet we do. As Christians, we are going to struggle. If God is going to work things out for our good, we are going to suffer. And it is foolish of us to look at those suffering elsewhere and think we know anything about it. I know people in this country who have had some very bad things happen to them. They have suffered and continue to face hardships greater than I have ever known. Yet even these people have been spared the horrors and continued suffering of the majority of people in this world. And knowing how fortunate we are should drive us into the arms of God with such shame and humility that the floor will not be low enough for us. But it doesn’t. And please know that I am guilty as well, that I preach this reminder to myself as well. We don’t have any place, any right to expect anything less than what others face. If we do not yield, if we do not welcome and embrace the trials, the sufferings God’s puts in our life in order to conform us to Christ’s image, then we really do not love God. We love ourselves and our idols. We have to trust and believe in the sovereignty of God. We have to live lives that demonstrate our complete faith by loving and serving even in the midst of circumstances- no matter how bad they may become. He cannot just be God when things are good. We cannot only praise Him when there is money in the bank and we have our health. He cannot be our genie of blessing. We have to allow ourselves to truly know Him and the beauty that comes from a life that is refined and purified by the refiner’s fire or else we will have missed everything and end this life with nothing. We cannot continue to preach that to accept Christ is to sign up for a life of prosperity and ease. We have to have compassion for those who are suffering. We have to love them and share their burdens and not look on them as if we are better than they or that we do not deserve the same. We have to welcome the workings of God without fear, without contempt, and truly trust that He is in control and knows better than we what is best for us. It is not an easy task that is set before us but it is one that is imperative that we complete.

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God’s Prerogative

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience(I) vessels of wrath(J) prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known(K) the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— Romans 9:14-23

God’s prerogative is exactly that- His prerogative. Sometimes as people, whose natural inclination it is to be selfish, we mistakenly think that everything is about us. And that kind of thinking can make us somewhat arrogant…and wrong. We begin to misunderstand our place and forget who we are. We are the clay, the pot and not the potter. We live in a great country. We have freedoms that are greater than any other country. Those freedoms came at a price, to the people who fought for them, to the people who have and still defend them. Those freedoms were ultimately given by God for us. And I consider the greatest benefit to be the freedom to worship and express my faith publically without fear of harm or recrimination. There are many who are not afforded the same freedom. But to our detriment, these freedoms have made us lazy, complacent and ungrateful. We now have a sense of entitlement that extends far beyond the freedoms afforded to us. Mistakenly we have extended our entitlement towards God. We have allowed ourselves to consider ourselves equal with God.

We live in a great country. We have freedoms that are greater than any other country. Those freedoms came at a price, to the people who fought for them, to the people who have and still defend them. Those freedoms were ultimately given by God for us. And I consider the greatest benefit to be the freedom to worship and express my faith publically without fear of harm or recrimination. There are many who are not afforded the same freedom. But to our detriment, these freedoms have made us lazy, complacent and ungrateful. We now have a sense of entitlement that extends far beyond the freedoms afforded to us. Mistakenly we have extended our entitlement towards God. We have allowed ourselves to consider ourselves equal with God.We will flatly deny this when pressed. Our words will be a mock humility and insincere reverence. And in the best we reverence. And in the best cases, we may be able to truthfully claim ignorance to our true selves but it is not a just excuse. God’s prerogative is God’s prerogative. We often cry out at God when we do not understand. We misquote, misshape and pervert His words claiming to know better than He what He meant to say. We cry foul and question His actions. If it does not make sense, if it is not to our liking or to our will we say that it cannot be of God. We take our designs and dreams and press them into something we can claim is His will when in reality it is anything but. We ignore page after page of scripture in order to create an image of God we can be comfortable with. In The Mortification of Sin, John Owen writes, “When we consider the very being of God, we find ourselves so far from the true knowledge of it that we cannot come up with the right words and expressions. As we seek to meditate in our minds and frame thought about God as we do about other objects of thinking, we fall so far short that we make an idol in our mind and worship a god of our own making, and not the true God that has made us.”

All of this amounts to our belief that it is our place to question and judge God. When we will not bring ourselves to the place where we trust Him and are humbly submitted to Him, we will rebel and question Him. We are the clay and the clay does not rebel against the potter. The clay molds into the shape of the potter’s choosing. The clay yields and submits to the vision of the potter. We should resemble the clay. Paul says,”20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Who are we to question the ways of the creator of all things? Who are we to say things like unfair, unjust and wrong when faced with the ways of God? Who are we to demand anything of Him who owes us nothing but death? Who are we to look upon Him with anything but fear, trembling, humility and thankfulness?

It is understandable that we may not understand. And it is understandable that our very sinful nature will rebel at the reshaping to His will. It is understandable that we may be disquieted with His ways while growing in our faith and learning to submit to Him. However, it is not acceptable to allow ourselves to continue on in the blasphemous arrogance that we should question Him.
It is really a revealing of our true wickedness. None of us are good and this is evidence of that fact. It is arrogance and pride that does not see justice and deserving in our lives. That God treats us in any way other than what we deserve should bring gratefulness. Yet we see grace and mercy as a right, an expectation and not a gift. We see God as wrong if He does anything that we do not agree with. We say, “Surely a loving and just God would not…” as if God is somehow bound by our ideas of fairness and unilateral action. What is it to us that He does whatever He chooses? He is God and we are to submit, obey, love and serve Him no matter the outcomes of our lives. It is not up to us to dictate the terms on anything concerning God. We are but a speck compared to Him. And despite our wickedness, He continues to love us. This fact says everything about Him and nothing about us. And it is that thought that can rid us of the arrogance that is in us.

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