One of the primary illusions of our day is, “I’m in control.” We live on the basis of personal strength as though that were true. Then a blood vessel bursts, a cell reproduces in a body, a car accident occurs; and in an instant, it becomes terribly clear, “I am not in control.”
This series we learn God is at work in all things, and if we can learn to live in that reality, we can live with a freedom, ease, and confidence that will be absolutely liberating.
Full Sermon Script:
I want to say hi to everyone here and everyone joining us online. We’re glad you’re here for the launch of this new series.
To start this series, I want to say — there’s something inside all of us that wants to make sure we can trust whoever is in charge of what’s going on in our lives.
A friend of mine flew his last flight as a pilot recently, and when he told the passengers, “I’m retiring. This will be my last flight.” Everyone on the flight began to cheer.
It occurred to me — I’ve never heard a pilot say, “This will be my very first time flying a plane full of passengers. I’ve never done this before.”
People don’t cheer for that.
I’ve never heard a pilot say something like that because we don’t say things like that in our society… because we want to know that we can trust the one who’s in charge.
I heard Robin Williams, early in his career, got a pilots uniform. He wore it on a flight and he started greeting passengers from the back of the plane.
The captain left the copilot in the cockpit and started greeting people from the front of the plane… until he and Robin Williams met each other in the middle of the plane, and they looked at each other and both said, “I thought you were flying the plane,” and went running to the cockpit.
We want to know, “Is someone flying this thing, and is he competent?”
There are a lot of stories like this. Let me share one more.
There’s an old story about Lufthansa airlines.
There was a flight over the Atlantic Ocean one time. The pilot came on the loud speaker and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a problem with the plane, so we have to emergency crash land into the ocean.
“I want you to relax. This is Lufthansa airlines. We’re prepared for this. We would like those of you who can swim to move to the left side of the plane, and those of you who cannot swim move to the right side fo the plane.”
Then there was a big splash and the plane crash landed into the ocean.
Now they’re in the water.
The pilot comes back on the loud speaker and says, “We’ve now crash landed into the ocean. All of you swimmers on the left side, the flight attendants will open the emergency exits. Immediately swim away from the plane as fast as you can.
“For those of you on the right side, thank you for flying Lufthansa Airlines.”
We all want to know, “Is there someone flying this plane, and are they competent?”
And it’s not just true with planes.
When it comes to my doctor, or my kid’s doctor or teachers or coaches, I want to know — is this person competent and taking responsibility?
If they are, then I have peace, freedom and confidence. If there’s not, I will not have peace or confidence about the situation.
Ultimately, this leads to God. We want to know — “Is there someone flying this planet? Does he know what he’s doing, or am I at risk?
“Am I at the mercy of my circumstances?”
Here’s the truth about us — we will live either at the mercy of God or at the mercy of our circumstances.
We’re launching this new series today. It’s called “In all things God works.”
“In all things.” There are a lot of things that happen to us in this life.
That’s the way it goes in our lives — things happen.
I want to tell why this series is so important for us.
We’re talking about one of the primary illusions of our culture, of our day.
And the illusion is, “I’m in control. I’m in charge. I’m self-sufficient. I can run things.”
We’re tempted a lot of times to live on the basis of personal strength… or education… or networks… or something as though that were true. — “I’m capable. I have it wired.”
Then something happens — a blood vessel bursts, a cell reproduces in your body, someone is driving a car, and someone else misses a stop sign.
In an instant, it becomes very clear, “What a fool I was! I am not in control.”
In fact, this isn’t just true about a big crises. All kinds of things happen to us in our lives.
Puberty happens to us. No one gets to vote on that one. We all have to go through it.
What I want us to learn to do in this series is look at how — “In all things… God works.”
Things happen, but God is involved in all things.
If we can learn to live in that reality, if we can learn to see where God is involved in the things that happen in our lives, we can live with a freedom and an ease and a confidence and a growth that will be absolutely liberating.
That’s where we’re headed in this series.
We don’t have to live at the mercy of our circumstances because we serve a God who is above our circumstances.
This truth has maybe never been expressed more powerfully than it was by the apostle Paul a long time ago.
This is what Paul said:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28
For the next few weeks, we’re going to just live with that statement… that truth.
I’m actually going to ask all of us to memorize it.
Now, I know when I say the word memorize, it strikes fear in the hearts of many of you.
I want you to know though, the writers of Scripture have quite a lot to say about memorization.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Have you ever read Psalm 119, the longest of all the psalms?
It’s a continuous song of praise to the life that is lead by “the one who hides God’s Word in their heart.”
It’s just a song of praise to life when someone hides God’s Word in their heart.
Dallas Willard writes these words:
Here we have an activity of mind and body undertaken with all the strength that we have to make our total being cooperate effectively with the divine order. — Dallas Willard
In other words, we say words of Scripture out loud and memorize them.
Then he says:
As a pastor, teacher and counselor, I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation on Scripture. — Dallas Willard
Personally, I would never undertake to pastor a church or guide a program of Christian education that did not involve a continuous program of memorization of the choicest passages of Scripture for people of all ages. — Dallas Willard
He says, “I just wouldn’t do it.”
Then he writes:
The inspired writers of Scriptures like Psalm 1, Psalm 119 and Joshua 1:8 simply were recording certain observable facts of the spiritual life. — Dallas Willard
It’s about filling your mind with Scripture.
Now, I know memorization is difficult for a lot of people.
I’ll put this in the form of a question, and you can raise your hand on this one.
How many of you here have a photographic memory — you hear a name one time and you got it forever?
Alright, look around at the hands in the air. These are all the valedictorians of their class.
How many of you have, like, an average memory? You do okay with names a lot of the time, but occasionally you’ll forget one.
How many of you have a lousy memory? You’re not sure of your own name.
How many of you can’t remember which category you fit in?
Here’s the deal. What matters is not how much you memorize. What matters is what happens to your mind while you’re memorizing Scripture.
While you’re exercising in that way, your mind and heart are being stretched. They’ll never go back quite to their original shape.
A word to all of you who are leading small groups.
It would be wonderful if you would encourage the people in your group to do this.
Take a thought from Scripture, a verse or passage, and keep it in your car or at your desk at work.
And as you’re doing this, it doesn’t have to be the object of a great deal of strain.
You’re not doing it to show God how committed you are to him. You’re just living with his Word until you know it like you know your own name. It becomes part of you.
Do you know what would be a neat deal? What if it could be said of all of us — Blue Oaks Church — “their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night?”
What if that could be said of all of us?
There would be fruit popping off the trees.
If you all would just hide God’s Word in your heart, you would be the sappiest group of people around.
So I’m going to ask Jordan to put Romans 8:28 back on the screens because I want us to say this out loud together.
Say it with me:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28
All I want to do in today’s message — as we begin to look at how “in all things.. God works” — is to go through this one statement Paul made so it gets embedded in our minds, in our hearts, and in our lives.
And I want to start with the little phrase, “in all thing.”
What’s important to understand here is that all of the circumstances of our lives actually happen to all of us.
Sometimes it can be tempting for people to think, “If I become a Christian, certain things won’t happen to me.”
When Paul says this — “in all things” — in the Greek, it’s actually just a single word — it’s the word “all.”
It could be translated as “all things,” or “all circumstances.”
The idea here is that all things happen to people who believe in God the same way they happen to people who don’t believe in God.
If you want to think about it like this — there are two kinds of things that can happen in our lives.
There are good things.
And there are bad things.
Just to make sure we’re clear on which category is which, I’ll run through some possibilities, and you tell me.
A job promotion?
It that a good thing or bad thing? That’s a good thing.
That’s a bad thing.
A blind date?
Could go either way.
Becoming building owners for the first time as a church?
That’s a good thing.
Needing 3 million dollars to renovate the building?
That would be a bad thing.
All of us have good things and bad things that happen to us.
Here’s a problem — very often people think, “If I become a Christian, what that means is more good things than bad things are supposed to happen in my life… because it’s God’s job to send me good things because I believe in him.”
Or they will think, “If I’m a Christian and you’re not, more good things should happen to me than should happen to you, and if more good things are happening to you, then that’s just not fair.”
People get all bent out of shape over things like that.
People think, “If I want this particular good thing to happen in my life, then I’ll be really faithful and pray and be really good to God, and I ought to have a better shot at having that good thing happen in my life.”
That’s not the case.
This is so important for us all to understand — All things happen to all people.
Problems at work
Having the dog get sick
Those things happen to people who love God and people who don’t believe in God.
I’ll take it a step further.
I was talking to someone this week, a wonderful person who just got a real serious diagnosis and he’s really struggling.
Terrible things happen.
Families lose a mom or a dad.
I lost a friend to cancer about 10 years ago. He had a loving wife and 3 young sons.
In the midst of that loss, his wife was able to say, “I don’t feel cheated. I feel like God gave me the gift of the time I had with Ron and that was a complete blessing.”
I don’t know how an attitude like that comes. I don’t know, but I know this — all things happen to all people.
If a church gets disingenuous about this — if someone comes into a church and hears some kind of happy talk about how, “If you love God, you’re just going to have good things happen to you all the time,” — it kills people. It kills the hearts of people.
Our job is not to give glib explanations for things we don’t understand.
When people suffer deeply, our job is to love them and mourn with them and come alongside them with support.
If that’s going on in your life…
I hope we can do that for you.
I hope we can care for you.
I hope we can seek God together.
The reality is — all of us experience all kinds of circumstances.
And that will tell us something about ourselves.
This is a quote from Henri Nouwen.
At issue is the question, “To whom do I belong, to God or to the world?” Many of my daily preoccupations suggest I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry. A little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. — Henri Nouwen
Often, I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of the waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival, not a holy struggle but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me. — Henri Nouwen
All things happen to all people.
And I don’t have to live at the mercy of my circumstances.
It’s so interesting.
I was thinking about several families I know who have a Down syndrome child in their family.
In one case, the person became a Christian, and their question was, “God, why would you do this to me?”
Then another person, her prayer to God was, “God, thank you so much that you brought me to faith so I don’t have to go through this journey by myself.”
Then I know of another dad, and his comment about being the parent of a Down syndrome child was, “Our family has learned more about love from this child. We have been more shaped and brought closer together through serving because we have this guy who is a part of our family. Not just that. He is the most relentlessly cheerful guy in our family.
“I actually think it should be called Up syndrome, not Down syndrome.” — That’s what he said.
See, the statement Paul makes is not that more good things are going to happen than bad things. It’s all circumstances.
Then he says:
…in all things God works… Romans 8:28
He doesn’t say, “all things will work out.”
As a matter of fact, in the same passage, Paul makes a statement about the nature of things.
In Romans 8:21 he says everything is in bondage to decay.
People will sometimes say things like, “Everything is going to work out. Everything is okay.”
No, everything is not okay.
Paul actually said, “It’s the world we live in. Because of the fall, because of sin, everything is in bondage to decay.”
Things fall apart.
That’s why there are mechanics and plumbers… and plastic surgeons.
Why does a car depreciate in its value the minute you drive it off the lot?
Because things fall apart.
Why do you get a warranty for an appliance, and it’s time limited… and the appliance always breaks the day after the warranty is up?
Because things fall apart.
Why do people go online for online dating services and post a picture of themselves from 10 years ago? I know you do that. I’ve seen some of the pictures.
Because things fall apart.
See, the promise is not, “Things will work out.” The promise is not, “Things work together for good.”
Things don’t. Things are in bondage to decay.
Here’s the promise — “In all things God works.”
In your circumstances — in the good things and the bad things — God works.
One thing I want us to constantly keep in mind throughout this series is how big our God is.
He is infinitely bigger than our circumstances.
He is the maker of heaven and earth.
I want to look at some of what the writers of Scripture have to say about this big God.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Isaiah 40:12
I was talking to a scientist recently. He was talking about the sky, and he said…
This is extraordinary to me.
He said, “In the observable universe, when we look at galaxies, a single galaxy can contain 100 trillion stars, and in our observable universe, there are thought to be around 200 billion galaxies… and a single one of them can have as many as 100 trillion stars.”
God made all of that, and it fits in the breadth of his hand.
See, so many people, when they picture God, picture this giant universe with a much smaller God.
No… it’s a giant God with a universe that fits inside his hand.
Look at this verse.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26
Sometimes I misplace my car keys… and I can’t find them. Does that ever happen to anyone?
I was thinking about this image of stars — 100 trillion of them in one galaxy, 200 billion galaxies. God never says, “Hey, where is Polaris?” or something like that.
God knows them all because of his great power. — “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?”
We were in Maui on vacation last week.
We took our family on a snorkeling adventure.
I thought, “What an amazing thing that God has made — the oceans and waves and invented swimming and snorkeling and created Maui and sunsets and my family, and I get to be there and enjoy it all.”
Then we saw spinner dolphins jump out of the water and do 360s in the air. I just thought, “God, this is too much.”
And just then these flying fish flew by our boat… and they said, “Hey Matt, how’s it going?” Okay, that part didn’t actually happen.
The flying fish did though. What an amazing creation — fish that can fly up to 200 yards!
God has made every spectacular thing we see in this world.
The people of Israel would say over and over, “It’s the God who made the heaven and the earth that watches over you… and all things.”
This leads to a real important question. Someone asked me this recently. Do you believe God is working when you are not working?
Often I live as though what Paul wrote was, “You need to make sure you’re at work in all circumstances to do good… because if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.”
A real good question is — When you go to bed at night, when you’re not working, do you believe God is working?
If you do, it will take a tremendous amount of pressure off you.
I am not in control of the weather or of traffic or of the circumstances of my life… and it’s a real good thing I’m not.
In all things… it’s this great God who works.
Then Paul says:
…in all things God works for the good… Romans 8:28
This is very important — God is at work for the good.
I have to tell you — this is one of those verses that’s very often taken out of context and misunderstood.
People will think — what this means is, “I want some good circumstance, so in any circumstance I’m in, God is at work for the good, so if I don’t get a good circumstance I want, it must mean God will give me a better circumstance.
“If I don’t get this high-paying job, this verse must mean God is going to give me a better-paying job.
“If I don’t get this incredible promotion, then it must mean God is going to give me a better promotion.
“If I don’t get to marry this beautiful woman, it must mean God is going to give me an even more beautiful woman to marry.”
Here’s a real important distinction when we think about God working “in all things for the good.”
Good things can happen TO me… or good things can happen IN me.
Good things can happen to me.
We generally want this.
Kids want this from parents. “Mom and Dad, I want a big allowance and fun toys and fun trips.”
However, when we love someone, we’re generally more concerned about good things happening IN them… because we love them and want them to be great people more than for good things to happen TO them.
We want good things to happen to them, and a child will say to a parent, “I want good things to happen to me,” but if a parent really loves that child, a parent might actually be willing to make bad things happen to that child (we call this discipline or time out) in order to make good things happen In that child.
Good things TO me — those are my circumstances, promotions, a job, have a hot date, have a great house, lots of money.
Good things IN me — that’s the character of Jesus. That’s love and joy and peace and patience.
The promise Paul is making here is not that good things are going to happen to you.
It’s something much more noble. It’s something way more glorious than that.
It’s that good things are going to happen IN you.
Here’s how this verse continues. I’ll read through the whole thing.
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
What’s his purpose? Look at the next statement.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… Romans 8:29
God’s plan for you is not just that you have really good circumstances in your life. It’s that you have the character of Jesus Christ through eternity. That’s so much better.
We’re often likely to think of all the good circumstances we want God to give us. God has something so much better that he wants for us.
We don’t always want it… but it’s so much better.
God’s promise is not to give you good things.
God promises to use all the things that happen to you to produce good things in you so that the character Jesus has now, you will have through eternity.
“…in all things God works for the good…” For whom?
…in all things God works for the good of those who love him… Romans 8:28
This is one of my favorite phrases in this text. God wants people who love him.
Paul, who wrote these words, would have said every day — as every devout Israelite did — what’s called the Shema — this verse from the book of Deuteronomy:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Why did Israel love that verse so much?
When Paul woke up, he would say those words — “Love the Lord your God.”
When he went to bed at night, he would say those words — “Love the Lord your God.”
Why would he say that? Why did he love that so much?
Because it meant the God of Israel is a God who wants to be loved. That was a striking statement in the ancient world.
No one said, “I love Baal.” No one said, “I love Molech.”
We get this weird picture of God in our minds.
Little kids often think of adults like these giant puffed up humans beings walking around saying, “I’m Daddy, do what I say. I’m Mommy, obey me.”
We never actually say anything like that, but a lot of people, when they think of God, they think of this giant character who says, “Obey me. Obey me. Serve me. Serve me. Do what I say.”
One of the most amazing truths that Israel gave to the world were these thoughts about God that changed everything — and that is, God wants to be loved.
Part of what that means is — God is loveable.
This is part of what needs to be set straight in my mind and yours — to live in a world where all things happens to all of us.
This is from The Divine Conspiracy.
The acid test for any theology is this. Is the God presented one that can be loved, heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful, honest answer is, “Not really,” then we need to look elsewhere or deeper. — Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy
It does not really matter how sophisticated intellectually or doctrinally our approach is. If it fails to set a loveable God, a radiant, happy, friendly, accessible, and totally competent being before ordinary people, we have gone wrong. We should not keep going in the same direction but turn around and take another road. — Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy
… in all things God works for the good of those who love him… Romans 8:28
Every moment… whatever is going on in your life.
This will raise the question, “What is God doing for people who don’t love him?”
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Jesus talked about that. He said:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45
God is at work for the good of those who love him, and he’s at work for the good of those who don’t love him — He’s such a loveable God.
It’s just that those who don’t love him make his work a little harder. They’re kind of the remedial group… but that’s our God.
We need to think about God this way — He’s constantly at work for the good of you… and of every being he has made.
In eternity one day, we will see this — “In all things.”
One more phrase. This is the very first part of the verse, so we’re jumping back to the beginning.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28
This is a very important phrase that Paul uses… and that we want to grow into.
Not, “We think, we guess, we hypothesize, we suspect…” No, this is knowledge. This is knowable.
Paul says, “I want you to know this.”
How do we do that? How do we become people who know it… not just suspect it or hope it… but know it?
You see, knowing that “God is at work in all things for good” is not mostly a matter of IQ. It’s not mostly a matter of information.
There’s a connection between doing and knowing.
The way to come to know is to do.
You see, obedience validates knowing.
When I obey, when I trust, then I come to know it’s really true.
If I refuse to obey, I will never know.
We have this unwritten rule in our offices that early is on time to meetings, and on time is late.
There are mornings when my wife works early and I need to get the kids to school. On those days, and depending on traffic, I’m in the office around 9:00.
If I have a meeting on those days and I hit traffic, I could be in the office a little after 9.
So one of our staff members pulled me aside one day and said, “You know, I know it seems like kind of a small thing, but you’re the teaching pastor, so you kind of set the pace. If we say it’s important to be on time to meetings, then you ought to obey that rule.”
I thought, “Wow, I’m grateful to be at a church where someone on staff has the courage to confront me on something like that.”
Unfortunately, they’re no longer with us, but I thought that took a lot of courage.
Here’s the deal — when I obey God, I realize the law of God is given for my own good and it leads to the best life possible.
When I’m generous, then I can know it really is more blessed to give than to receive. That’s not just a statement in Scripture.
The way we come to know in the deepest sense — the way Paul is talking about here is not just, “I affirm that statement.” I actually come to know it with my whole self — with my hands and my eyes and my heart.
I trust God with my sexuality, and I come to know — to have a woman with whom I’m faithful, to honor God with my relationship — it doesn’t mess up my life or the lives of other people. It really is the best way to live.
I speak the truth even though it’s difficult, even though it might get me in trouble… then I realize when I put my head on the pillow at night — my conscience is clear, and there’s integrity in my life.
“God, I’m so grateful. In that situation where I could have used a lie to try to get out of trouble, you were there and you were at work helping me to become more honest.”
There’s an old song that I grew up singing in the baptist church I attended in Chicago. Probably most of you have never heard of it. The lyric is:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way.
When we do his good will, he abides with us still and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.
We all want to be happy. We all want good things to happen TO us.
True joy, true happiness comes when good things are happening IN us.
And we can know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him… if we trust and obey.
So Blue Oaks, this series is about us walking through this promise from God… and we’re going to learn together to recognize that God is with us.
I invite you this week to look at all the things that happen to you.
When you wake up in the morning — it doesn’t have to be big things.
When you go to work.
When there’s a traffic jam.
When there’s frustration.
When you get criticized.
When you’re tempted to lie.
When you feel discouraged.
Ask God, “How are you at work in this thing?”
Because He will be… because “in all things God works.”
Let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.