5/20/16 Sermon Romans 8:28 "Everything Happens For A Reason?"

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Romans 8:28

1 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version. There were a few others, Genesis 50:20 and Ecclesiastes 3 are two that come to mind When I first began studying these passages, I believed that all things couldn’t happen for a reason. There was no way you could convince me that some of the bad things we deal with were God’s doing. How can you justify killing innocent people like those killed that day on 9-11! Or robberies gone bad? People lost at sea. People dying in plane crashes, car wrecks, etc. The list goes on and on! Technically, everything actually does happen for a reason. The reason, however, may be as simple as a random occurrence of specific circumstances, such as someone fiddling with his car radio and, in that moment, not seeing a small child run in front of his car resulting in him hitting and killing the child. The reason is inattention, or negligence, or just bad luck. But that kind of “reason” is not the kind of reason implied by the statement “Everything happens for a reason.” The kind of reason usually implied by that statement would require the full statement to read as follows: “Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is God’s will.” That fuller expression of the statement is meant to give a grieving person a sense that God has some wise and loving purpose for everything that happens and we mere humans just do not have the capacity for understanding that purpose. Instead of losing a child in a car accident due to random events (which is hard for people to accept), the “Everything happens for a reason” statement is generally intended to reassure a survivor that we are not victims of cold and unthinking bad luck and that, instead, there is a wise and loving God who has everything under control. This is true for many kinds of misfortunes: Someone diagnosed with untreatable and terminal cancer; or a high school kid dying suddenly from a burst blood vessel in the brain; or a kid drowning because a parent’s attention was momentarily diverted. We want things to happen for a purposeful reason (as opposed to a random reason). If a friend gets struck and killed by a random flash of lightning, it doesn’t feel good to think that we live in a world where bad things just happen. We want to be able to identify a purposeful agent as the cause of that misfortune (either someone who is good and wise – God – or someone who is evil – either another person or the Devil). For many people, it’s just too hard to accept that something terrible may happen simply because of random circumstances. When you got that new job you were hoping for, that happened for a reason -- you applied for it, you interviewed well, and the company thought you were the best candidate for the job. When you failed that test you needed to pass in order to maintain your G.P.A. and keep your scholarship, that too happened for a reason -- you spent too much time on Facebook, going out with friends and catching up on your favorite shows when you should have been studying. The time that house on the news got hit by lightning and burned to the ground, that happened for a reason -- the roof of the house was the closest contact point for the bolt of lightning, and the massive charge of electricity caused the wood the house was built with to catch on fire. And when that young mother and her child were hit by a drunk driver and died tragically in a car accident, that also happened for a reason -- someone had too much to drink, and without concern for anyone else's well being, they got behind the wheel of their car, wherein their impaired judgment and slowed response time resulted in them running a red light and taking the life of a mother and her child. But there was no grander narrative behind these moments, no deeper meaning to be discovered if we simply read the signs correctly. They happened, and there was a reason behind their happening, but that reason was mundane, not divine. They were not part of God's plan. When these sorts of events occur, and we find ourselves in a moment of speechless horror, many of us instinctively utter the words "Everything happens for a reason," either to ourselves or to those who are suffering, with the thought being that God is behind these events and has a reason, or purpose, for them occurring. Let's assume for a moment that is true, that the sort of events I've described, as well as other horrific tragedies, were the handiwork of the divine. What, then, does that say about the nature of God? It says that God is a God who apparently delights in suffering. It says that God is the sort of god who sends drunk drivers to kill, who burns down people's homes and afflicts random people with horrendous diseases, like cancer. Regardless of any potential "reason" such a God would choose to do these things, if indeed God had a hand in intentionally causing them to occur, then that God is not the God of the Gospels. Does the Bible speak of a God who works to draw out good in the midst of great evil? Absolutely. But there is tremendous difference between a God who orders the chaos and a God who causes it. The doesn't mean God does not enact judgment. Scripture testifies to the fact that God does. But what scripture does not do is ascribe to God the responsibility or blame for every terrible thing that happens in life. The truth is we live in a broken world, and in such a world, terrible, meaningless things happen. Not because God wants them to happen, but because our decisions have unavoidable consequences and because nature is an untamable beast that is always on the prowl. But when we try to ascribe divine meaning, purpose or reason to tragedy, we merely compound the pain and turn God into a villain. Mothers who suffer miscarriages should never have to hear that God killed their baby. Family members who just lost a loved one to cancer should never be told that God made their loved one sick. Friends whose homes have been lost to natural disaster should not have to hear that God caused these things to happen. While we would never say these things exactly this way, when we try to comfort our friends and loved ones with the words "Everything happens for a reason," or "God has a purpose," then this is exactly what we are telling them. It is a good and holy thing to want to console our friends who are suffering, but more often than not the greatest comfort you can give is the silence that accompanies a listening ear, a loving shoulder to cry on, and the promise of prayer. Which means we must do everything we can to avoid becoming our loved ones tormenters in their time of trial. We must stop putting our friends through pain every time they suffer by tormenting them with the words "Everything happens for a reason." Yes, there will come a day when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or crying or mourning or pain. But until that day comes, our testimony to that future reality is not found in trying to attach meaning to the meaningless. Our testimony, and our gift of grace to those to suffer, will be found in our willingness to suffer with them, to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death so that they know they are not alone. In that act of grace, we incarnate the truth that though meaningless pain and suffering may seem to rule the present, they are not part of God's plan. God's plan is that one day He will make His dwelling place among His people to dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be among them and be their God. On that day, and not before it, the old order of things will pass away and all things will be made new. All things, whether good or bad, work together for good to those who love God and follow His plan for them. Like Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 to his brothers You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. It wasn't God's plan for his brothers to work evil against him and sell him as a slave, that was the enemy's doing. But God USED this opportunity for good, and in the process, perfected Joseph's character so that he would be ready to do what God had planned for him to do. In the same way, God has plans for us. Even if sometimes things happen that we do not understand, God plans to use these to prepare us to carry out the plans He has for us. Nevertheless He does not violate our free will, so this only happens if we so choose to submit our will to His. Now here is what the Bible tells us: In Ecclesiastes 9:11, the wise man Solomon, with God's guiding hand, tells us, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time; like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them." Thus we learn that things happen, evil happens. And it isn't always God making things happen. We learn here that sometimes we are "just in the wrong place at the wrong time." For example, a tornado hits a neighborhood; 10 people are killed. Are they all bad, are they all good? Did God do this? The Bible tells us that this is not the case. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:45, the Father "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Don’t ever let someone convince you that you are sick because God wants to teach you a lesson. God has never desired for you to be sick. Lets face it, what lesson was so important to learn that the 8yr. old boy needed to die of cancer. Or to cause the family never have their mother because she is in bed day and night? And is God so incapable of teaching this lesson to you through a method while you are well that He had to make you sick? Now hear me out here, I am not saying you will not grow through your sickness. Will you learn things through your sickness? Absolutely, God will always take the worst hand life will deal you and turn it around for good. He loves to see us grow in spite of the bad things that happen in our lives. In fact what I’ve actually seen many times is that God is so good at turning things around for good that people often blame Him for the bad He had to turn around. God is the author of good, not bad! God is not the author of every situation. We are the ones in control of our own lives, God is sovereign but that doesn’t mean that He is control of every little thing. He has delegated that control to us and our inability (or ability) to use that delegated authority has very far-reaching implications. We cannot just sit back passively and watch the world fall to pieces and our lives crumble and just say “well that must be the will of God”. How can I be so bold to say that God’s will does not always happen? Let me ask you a simple question. Does God want you to sin? No. So how on Earth is it that we all manage to sin so frequently? God has given us free-will. Please note: Nothing we do or say ultimately can override God’s ultimate plans and purposes for humanity but He has given us individual freedom and a free-will, much like an adult would give a child free-will within a playground to do whatever they want. The illusion of free-will is there, but ultimately we can’t leave the playground to play on the highway. In the same way we can do whatever we want in life and there will be real consequences of those choices but God is sitting back ensuring that all things turn to good for our lives as those who believe in Him.
This morning we will be reading from the New International Version Romans 8:28 1 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version. I have felt God’s call for most of my life, but like Jonah, I ran from that calling. I was baptized when I was 12 years old and accepted Jesus as my Savior but I refused to let God lead. After three years of living like I wasn’t a Christian, I began to visit and spend time with other friends who were a better influence on me. Two years later, I met my future wife. She played the piano in her church and I began to attend church with her. After we were married we continued to attend Oakdale United Methodist Church. For many years I was very active in our church. I led the singing and my wife played the piano. In 1998, God spoke to me and made me realize that I was not living like I should. During a week of bad weather, one night as I put the boys to bed, with tornadoes threatening again, I realized that the boys were afraid. I reminded them that no matter what happens, God would take care of them just like they had learned in church. This seemed to reassure them that everything would be alright. As I left their room and entered the hallway, God spoke to me and said, "I'll take care of them but what about you. They will go to heaven but where are you heading?". This was an eye opening experience for me. I knew that I needed God to take control of my life and work on being the person on the inside that I portrayed on the outside. I rededicated my life to God and tried to live for him. This was during the time our 2 boys were growing up in church and we also had several other children in our congregation. We decided to start a Sunday school class for them. I wasn't comfortable speaking in front of others, even children. About this time we needed a new lay speaker, as we were called then, and I was elected. I had no intention of doing any preaching, just thought about classes to help me get more comfortable speaking. Apparently God had other ideas. In my first class, I learned that God doesn't use those that we as humans would choose. He uses those that he has chosen, if we answer his call. I'm ashamed now to say that this scared me. Right there in class, I almost got up and left. I prayed , “Lord, this wasn't what I had in mind”. But, I stayed in class and even continued to go to other classes. I began to fill in for the preacher when he was not able to be there. Then in 2004 we bought a poultry farm. This put a stop to my preaching for awhile. We kept the farm until we sold it in 2015. I had a farming accident in Dec 2013 where I lost my right dominant arm. This was a life changing experience for me. My shirt got hung up in the pto shaft of the tractor and I couldn't get it loose. I was working by myself so as the tractor continued to run, I said, (either silently or spoken aloud, I'm not sure which) "Lord, I've messed up, you will have to save me". As the shaft rotated around and pulled me closer, my clothes split and I fell to the ground on the other side. The only damages that I had were to my elbow. Of course that damage was enough to require amputation but at the time I thought that my time on this earth was over. After several days in the hospital and many surgeries later, I began the rebuilding of my life. This time God became very important to me. Finally realizing that he needed to be in control, completely, not just in words. It was during this time that Romans 8:28 became my favorite verse. "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those called according to his purpose.". This verse speaks to me because no matter what happens, no matter how bad it is or was, God is making it better for those who love him. This doesn't mean that bad things won't happen or you or I won't make mistakes, but it means that God will work it out for our good. After my accident, some questioned how God could allow this to happen. I didn't think that God caused my accident but at the same time, I knew that he could have prevented it. I also knew that I and other Christians could learn so much from our adversity that we were going through. I learned so much from having to completely rely on God to take care of us and making sure our needs were met. I learned to get down on my knees to pray even though I kept up a personal relationship with God during the time we owned the farm. These things could make me even thankful that this happened, but it doesn't mean that God caused it. I had warnings written on the tractor that I wasn't supposed to use the pto without being in the tractor seat - I wasn't supposed to use the pto shaft without guards in place-I even had an alarm that sounded when I left the seat. I can look back on my own accident and see where my personal choices led to my accident. Now, I'm not going to say that I haven't done things in the past that God wouldn't have taken my arm, but through studying the bible and prayer, I've come to the conclusion that we are human and have choices to make. Sometimes that leads to poor decisions or bad things happening to us that we have no control of. This is where Romans 8:28 shines for me. Knowing that no matter what happens or how bad it gets, God is in control and working everything out. My call to ministry kind of mimics Moses and Jonah. As I was beginning to realize that God was calling me, my first reaction was like Moses. I didn't feel like I spoke good enough for this. I definitely didn't have the confidence that I needed to speak in front of people much less in the pulpit. I also spent many years running from God before finally answering his call fully. Like Jonah, I tried to run from God and we know that doesn't work. I'm beginning to realize that a lot of my problems came from not paying attention to God's calling. My spiritual gifts, that I became aware of after a spiritual survey, will help me to go wherever God is leading me. Teaching, Helps and Spirit Music will be a great foundation for what God has planned for me. After my accident, I was able to get back to church. I was asked to lead the singing again. This helps keep me on the right path. I've found that if I'm totally involved in church and especially working on a sermon that it’s a lot easier to stay focused. Not long after coming back to Oakdale I was asked to fill in for our preacher while she was sick. This was the second chance for me and I didn't want to make the same mistakes again. I began taking classes to become a lay servant. I started this time with the intentions of becoming a lay minister. I just didn't think it would happen so quickly! You might even say that this is the reason that I lost my arm, and that might be true. But, I believe there would have been better ways for him to accomplish this. I believe that God took a bad situation and made something good come out of it. Just like Romans 8:28 says.
2 Does everything happen for a reason? King James Version: Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." This verse is saying that "no matter what happens in this life, it is going to work out for the good. If you place your life, your brokenness, your tragic situation, your good situation, whatever situation, God is so good He will turn it around and work it out for the good. He will take it, and make things better." I like how the NIV interprets the verse... "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." In all things. No matter what you've been through, no matter what has happened, God will turn it around and make it work out, for you! Not for Him! But for YOU! That's how good He is! If you would just place your circumstances in His hands, He will turn it around and make it work out. This is very different from the philosophy that "everything happens for a reason." You see, if we believed that "everything happened for a reason" then we would be asking for the reason in these tragic events, and the only conclusion we would come to is that God had some purpose for it. Ephesians 1:11 Ecclesiastes 3:11 Contemporary English Version (CEV) 11 God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. Genesis 50:20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good. When you think about it, redeeming good out of the jaws of brokenness is something God’s been doing all along. We worship a God who brings resurrection from crucifixion, who defeats death with new life, who overcomes sin with eternal life. It is not that God wills calamity or death or destruction - no, in fact, God desires just the opposite. And yet, even though God is not the author of these evils, God is at work in those hard places for good purposes. That’s what happens in the story of Joseph. Joseph, not the father of Jesus, but the Old Testament character whose story is told over the last 15 chapters of the book of Genesis. It’s a great story - In a nutshell, Joseph is the favored of 12 sons of Jacob, who spoils him and causes the other brothers to resent him. The other brothers sell him as a slave to some passing merchants, who in turn sell him to the captain of the guard in Egypt. Through an interesting turn of events that include an encounter with a married woman, time in prison, and some dream interpretation, Joseph ends up in charge of the affairs of the nation of Egypt - sort of how we might understand a governor in our day. Because of what he saw in the king’s dream, predicting seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of famine, Joseph devises a plan to store away the excess grain in the good years so it will last through the lean years. He ends up providing an invaluable service not only to the people of Egypt but to neighboring countries as well, ensuring that everyone has the food they need. Hearing there is food in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers travel there, and that’s where they have an ironic family reunion, realizing that the brother they hated so much they sold him into slavery is now the one who will literally decide where their next meal will come from. However, Joseph’s disposition toward his brothers is summed up in the verse we read earlier from the 50th chapter of Genesis: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20a). We live in a world where bad things happen, but we are certain God didn’t do them because of who we know God to be. In a variety of ways, the Scriptures tell us over and over again that God is Love. In fact. if you remember nothing else today, just go home with the knowledge that God is Love. That’s the starting point - the reality that God is Love is the trump card in our understanding of God. Love is the framework from which God operates. It would make no sense for God to visit calamity upon God’s children “for a reason” because God is love. If something isn’t rooted in love, then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t come from God. God is Love. Period. God is ALWAYS Love. Period. Yes, we live in a world where bad stuff happens. In the enduring words of Forrest Gump, “It happens.” And when it does, God’s heart breaks for the evil this world - and we who live in it - are capable of committing. Just because something bad is taking place doesn’t mean that it’s happening for a reason, and it especially doesn’t mean that God did it. No, like a good and loving parent, God is weeping right along with us, grieving as we are grieving, hurt by the very things that cause pain to us. Look around - and you don’t have to look far - to places where people are hurting, and you’ll discover that God is also hurting in those places. God is not a masochist, deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on God’s self, nor is God a sadist, getting a kick out of the pain of others. God is Love, and God’s will is ever-directed to his children’s good. Honestly, I don’t know why we say things like “Everything happens for a reason.” Perhaps it numbs us to the pain that is present in the lives of so many. Perhaps it helps us find meaning in the midst of difficulty. Perhaps it gives us the illusion that we understand and are in control of things our feeble human minds will never understand. But - and here’s the dangerous part - it too easily allows us our minds to make God the author of suffering and the perpetrator of evil. The phrase “everything happens for a reason” leads us to a place of mistaken identity about who God is. As we blame God for things God hasn’t done, we may get mad at God or turn away from God, when we need to be saying, “God, I am in a real mess, and I need you more now than ever, and I need you to take this difficulty and redeem it for good. I give it to you, and if there’s anything good to come out of this, please find it.” Saying “everything happens for a reason” keeps us from this honest, raw, and healing place with God. Looking back, Joseph realized that the horrible, painful, and inexplicable things he experienced, not least of which was being sold into slavery by his own brothers, were not done by God. That’s not the role God plays in the story. Rather, God says, “Given these circumstances, what you’ve had to endure, the things that have been done to you, the atrocities you faced that were so far outside my will, outside my desire for you - in light all of these things, what would be best for you?” Even as our circumstances may change moment-by-moment, God’s will is always for whatever is best for us. Do you see how different that is than simply saying “Everything happens for a reason”? One view makes God a monster. The other is rooted in the reality that God is Love, an all-powerful healer whose will is ever-directed toward our good.
3 What does all this mean? Listen carefully. If something happens that causes harm, or distress, or disease, or decay, or death, if something happens that leads someone into a future that has no hope, if something happens that is not fundamentally rooted in love, then it is not from God. Period. End of story. Yet even though God didn’t do it, God can still work in it, and use it, and if there is any good to be found, God will find it. No matter how bleak the situation, God can and will work to bring good out of it. God is not inflicting pain on God’s children, God is not tempting us, God is not testing us. Even in the worst we might go through, no matter how much we hurt, God is there with us, loving us with the calm assurance that in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. God is with us! I know you may be asking "well, why do bad things happen"? Well, basically... for God to create an environment for True Love, He had to create an environment of Freedom and choice. Man chose to go his own way, and the consequence of that was dramatic. The world broke. We now live on a planet that is afflicted with disease and tragedy not because God is causing these things to happen, but because we, in our disobedience in the Garden of Eden, caused the planet to go into a frustration. A brokenness. And now, this planet is crying out for its liberation. The reality is, bad things do happen in this world. But God isn't pleased when these things happen, let alone causing them to happen! Not everything happens for a reason. God does not cause tragedies. They happen because we live in a fallen world, and He weeps with us. He invites us to find comfort and peace in His arms, and to trust Him to help us. Hymn:357 Just As I Am Dear Heavenly Father, we ask for continued guidance and safety through out our week. We ask that you help us to live a life that is pleasing to you and bring others closer to you. These things and all others we ask in Jesus's name, Amen.
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