DO ALL THINGS REALLY WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD?

26 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because7 the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,8 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 8:26-30)

 I’d like to begin by quoting from my son-in-law’s Facebook page.

 Two years ago, today I almost lost my wife...but God had other plans. His ways are always best! I love you, Grace :)

 Ivan is not a Facebook guy. He only began ‘Facebooking’ when Grace, my daughter (then barely 23 and married only 11 months) was almost killed by a careless, neglectful driver who ran a 6 second old red stoplight at a major intersection, running my daughter down, shattering her body, giving her traumatic brain injury from blunt force trauma to her right frontal lobe (hope of personality, intellect, and other higher executive functions) also occluding her right carotid artery, resulting in two debilitating strokes on her right parietal and occipital hemispheres of her brain.

 As a result, her brain injuries, Grace has developed a rare form of life-threatening epilepsy that is largely untreatable and complicated. Ivan turned to Facebook to keep family and friends updated on her progress rather than fielding tons of phone calls. He wrote the statement above on the two-year anniversary of her accident. Today, while aspects of her recovery remain near miraculous, she is largely housebound and susceptible to seizure due to light sensitivity. She also had to learn to walk again (and talk and think). If you want to learn more about them and their lives, click here:  https://walkingwithgraceweb.com/

 Grace’s life (and Ivan’s for that matter), as well as my life and the life of our family will never, ever be the same. Due to the complexities of her condition I can only visit Grace for about 30 minutes a week, tops. Her injuries, complications, and medications will abbreviate her life.

 All of this begs the question: “Do all things really work together for good to those who love God, really?” People have asked that question of me directly, as a pastor and her dad, both verbally and silently as I continue the ministry here at Hillside Church in San Jose. I was only 5 months into “the job” when she was struck and was forced to commute back and forth and preach on weekends until we could move, she and Ivan up here. My family was in SoCal for 5 months and I was here in the Bay Area. A tough row to hoe.

 What was God thinking. Where was God? I have to confess, I’ve never been angry at God, not for one minute. Neither has Grace. Neither has Ivan, to my knowledge. Why? In short: the big picture. God causes all things to work together for good. And knowing God’s character and clinging to that knowledge like a life raft has been something like my salvation. It’s kept me focused on the big picture.

 Don’t get me wrong. It stinks that my daughter had this accident. Every day is not an easy day. In fact, no days since then have been easy days. I feel older, more tired, and sometimes bone weary. I’m sure Grace, Ivan, Teri, and Anna do too. But as a family, we try and kept hold of the larger picture. God has used this apparent tragedy in a number of ways and ministered to a lot of people through Grace’s suffering. Moreover, “All things work together for good” is not some New Age, or Eastern, mantra. And it’s not some stand-alone Bible verse that anyone should carelessly take out of context. Our strength comes from its meaning and context.

 Let’s consider the passage and its context.

 26 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because7 the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,8 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 8:26-30)

 We cling to what is true, fact rather than feeling:

  1. Verse 26 reminds us (as Jesus promised) we are never alone. The Holy Spirit is in us and with us forever, bearing witness to the fact that God is with us.

  2. Verse 27 reminds us that the Spirit of God not only assures us we are God’s but guides our thoughts and prayers as we seek the Father in prayer, according to the will of God.

  3. Verse 28 reminds us of what is true. Our suffering is not wasted. God, who is sovereign, has a plan for each and every person’s momentary and brief life. We were saved by grace according to the purposes of God to do the works of God, created in Christ Jesus, that we should walk in them (also see Ephesians 2:8-10). Not every path is an easy one. Not all of our callings are the same.

  4. Verses 29 and 30 is the “why” to our peace—my peace. It keeps things in perspective. This life is short, really short, and eternity is long. And eternity is what ultimately counts. God is conforming us to the image of His Son. That’s not a bad thing. Moreover, Grace (and Ivan’s) eternities are secure. As real Christ-followers, we will all spend eternity together with the Savior, in heaven. That’s the sure thing.

 Whether we are rich or poor in this life, well or unwell, whole or disabled, does not matter, really. Life is short on planet earth. Whether a person lives to see 30 or 90, in the scheme of eternity it’s all a wisp of smoke or a mist on a hill dispersed by sunlight and wind. 500,000 years from now we’ll all still be together whole, no longer seeing through a mirror dimly but we shall see Him as He is. And we will see each other as we shall be, with new bodies and callings in our heavenly home, together forever.

 I just finished preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. We are called to lay up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. The stuff of earth doesn’t last. It’s all gone in the blink of an eye or the changing of a light from green to yellow to red to green.

 My peace if found in verses 29-30 and what it says about God implicitly and explicitly. Look again.

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 8:26-30)

 Here is found the reality that enables us to see clearly through the ‘fog of war’ in this fallen world.

  •  Those whom God foreknew will be predestined to salvation (vv. 29-30a).

  • Those whom God predestined God called to Himself (v. 30b).

  • Those whom God called God justified/saved (v. 30c).

  • And those whom God saved are as good as glorified already (v. 30d).

My daughter is safe in the arms of God and we will move through this trial into our heavenly home where every tear, every pain, and every hardship will be wiped away. And there we will all be (Teri, Grace, Ivan, Anna, and I) together always… Always whole, always safe, always at peace; always with joy—always with Jesus. Life is good.

 Now, I’m certain some of you may find cause to disagree with me theologically. That’s too bad. And for those who struggle with this concept of God’s sovereignty in all things—even our salvation—I’ll spend a moment showing you what I mean. Look at verses 29-30. It all comes down to a proper understanding of foreknowledge.

 Foreknowledge has to do with intent now knowing the future. God does not simply know what will come to pass. He ordains it. Foreknowledge in both the OT and NT sense has to do with Him setting His heart among His people. He ordains who will be saved from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8 and Matthew 25:34).

 All those God foreknow God predestined to salvation. And those He predestined to save He called. And all He called He justified. All He called He saved. And those He saved, each and every single one, will be glorified with Him in heaven. That’s good news. There’s hope and peace and consolation in that.

 Imagine if foreknowledge had to do with simply knowing the future, like knowing who would be saved and who would not. Then our passage would make no sense at all and God would be powerless at His core:

  • Some He foreknew He predestined.

  • Some He predestined He called.

  • Some He called He justified.

  • Some He justified He glorified.

Now if all He knew about were saved, there’d be no need for a savior. Then everyone would be saved. That’s not how it works.

 It works this way:

  • All He foreknew, all He purposed to save, He predestined.

  • All He predestined He called (each and every one).

  • All He called He justified (no one slips through His fingers).

  • All He justified He glorified (God does not lose one of them—John 17:12).

 Both my daughters embraced Christ as young girls. They have loved God and loved on Christ throughout their lives since then. And no one can rip them from the Father’s hand (John 10:28-30). Ultimately, all things work together for good for them because their salvation set their eternity and every trial between salvation and home-going is to bring glory to God, good to others, and growth to them. And then after running the race, they will receive the ultimate gift of God’s grace and we will all spend eternity together. Not because we were special but because God is gracious and good—and sovereign. My peace of mind comes from knowing Him and knowing that He is bigger than all my hurts and fears—He’s got His children in His hand for all eternity. And there is peace and contentment and sanity in knowing that because one knows God. There’s more to say. Next time. But it’s true: All things really do work together for good!

 

 

What in the World is Expository Preaching (and why should I care)?

I am asked this question often. Depending who you are you either love or dislike expository preaching. The problem is most people don’t know what expository preaching is. Some mistakenly think it is reading a Bible verse and then talking about it, then reading the next Bible verse and talking about it, repeating the process until you’ve run out of time or move through an entire chapter or book of the Bible. If this was your understanding of expository preaching, click here.

 Let’s understand what expository preaching is not. It is not reading a verse and engaging in running commentary, then reading another verse and giving more commentary. That’s remotely like expository preaching. Many people often confuse this practice with verse by verse expository preaching. Yes, expository preaching can include a verse by verse explanation of a passage; however, it is not limited to this---far from it.

Expository preaching is not preaching a word study. Some believe that expositional preaching involved preaching a word study you developed using your favorite concordance. First of all, concordances are not meant to provide you the definition of a word. Concordances are helpful in finding occurrences of a word throughout the Scripture. Secondly, lexicons provide the basic meaning of words (we’ll talk about context some other time). Well-meaning Christians often develop a talk by taking a Sunday or two in order to preach a verse by breaking it down a word at a time. That’s not an expository sermon either.

 It’s not a dry academic exercise (or a boring discussion) where one demonstrates his academic prowess. Preachers should never be boring or dry. Expository preaching ought to be engaging and applicational. In fact, you could call expository preaching applicational preaching. Good expository preaching takes the audience into consideration. It is not necessarily academic (unless preached to seminary professors and students) and it is always accessible to the ‘common, garden variety Christian.’ It’s often exciting and compelling! What is expository preaching?

 Here’s a simple definition of expository preaching. Expository preaching is explaining the mind of God to the people of God using the word of God. After all exposition, according to Webster’s exposition is a “a discourse or an … designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” The aim of expository preaching is to explain the mind of God revealed through the word of God so that we can understand it (and apply it). The aim of the preacher is to make the word/will of God understood using his Bible so that people can respond to it intelligently and intentionally.

There are many species of expository preaching. One species of expository preaching resembles what we described above. There are examples of textual, sequential, or verse by verse, exposition of a passage or book of the Bible. However, this goes beyond reading and commenting… reading and commenting. It entails finding the flow of thought in the passage and unfolding it. John MacArthur is best known for this style of expository preaching. Some preachers engage in unpacking and explaining the larger thought (or big idea) of a chapter or book of the Bible. Alistair Begg and Mark Dever often do this. Others unload a lesson from a biblical narrative (like Chuck Swindoll).

 But there are other kinds of expository preaching. Some forms of expository preaching involve theme by theme preaching of the Bible (think Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount). There is doctrinal expository preaching where the preacher explains a doctrine of the Bible using the Bible, finding a passage that unlocks it nicely and then cross-referencing judiciously).

Expository preaching can in fact be topical. You can take a passage like Ephesians 5:21-33 and use it to preach on marriage and roles in marriage. You’re not preaching the whole book, just covering a topic from this chapter. You might bring in 1 Peter 3:1-8 to this sermon. It’s topical (and expositional). You could also use Ephesians 4:25-32 and speak to relationships or communication (there are principles for both found in this passage).

The common denominator for expository preaching is that it comes from the text. It comes from the text and not your favorite agenda. The development of an expository sermon involves discovering the meaning (authorial intent) of the passage and making application of it to our lives today. Since God communicated to be understood, we are to understand and obey. The ultimate aim of expository preaching is the spiritual maturity and growth (betterment) of the listener.

 Let’s talk about bad sermons, or bad topical sermons. Many times, too often, the preacher comes up with a conclusion or an agenda then writes a speech and snatches a few Bible verses here and there to make his talk sound biblical. He has an idea and glues or patches in an assortment of unrelated verses or passages out of context. This is what many people think of as a topical sermon. It may be topical but it’s not a sermon—no matter how gifted the communicator might be.

Is expository preaching found in the Bible? You bet! I remember someone trying to tell me it’s not but it is. The two best descriptions of expository sermons in the Bible are found in Nehemiah 8 and Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).” Jesus is the Master Expositor. A longer, lengthier description is found in Nehemiah 8 and reveals where many of our practices in preaching come from today:

 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand… 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose...5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 …the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)—-note that last sentence carefully. Why?

 All biblical sermons are expository. They explain the mind of God to the people of God using the word of God, giving the sense of His meaning. And if it was good enough for Jesus and Ezra, (OT and NT), it should be just fine for us. Accept no substitutes. If you want to know and do the will of God and His Kingdom, listen to expository sermons. Again: accept no substitutes.

Sensing the Presence of God

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether..Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139: 1-12)

Have you every entered a room or a church and sensed the presence of God? Have you ever entered a room and felt that God was not there? How many times do we hear someway say, “I really felt God’s presence today in this service (or in this place or that place)?” I remember hearing a pastor (on television) once say, “I’m about to call down the Holy Spirit on this place!” Have you every considered the implications of such statements?

As Christians we can get a little sloppy with our terminology. Sloppy terminology often leads to sloppy thinking. What do we mean by this? Let’s use a little common sense and logic. We know that God is everywhere present, as we read above. Bible scholars and other theologians call this omnipresence.

We are creatures with feelings. Our feelings don’t always square with the facts. You may enter a room and ‘feel like God is not there.’ Or… you may sense God’s presence. But the fact is your feelings don’t necessarily square with reality. God is always there. There is no place on this earth—-in this universe—-where God is not present.

God is with you when you feel all alone. He is with you when you are having a mountain top spiritual experience. He is there in the hard times too, even in the deep dark valleys (Psalm 23:4).God is always there… always present. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He never abandons us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; Hebrews 13:5-6; Matthew 28:20). God’s presence is everywhere. He is everywhere present.

This means neither you or I, or the pastor on TV, can “call down the Holy Spirit.” You can’t call Him down on a room, or into a situation. He is already there. Says who? Says the Psalmist (above) and says Jesus (below):

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

God is everywhere… everywhere present—-whether you sense Him or not. No need to call Him down—-He’s already here. He is with you now. And that is very good news indeed. Be encouraged! Take heart! Cling to what is true!

So what do you do with this information? Pass it on. Speak with clarity for the sake of others, particularly new believers. And rest well—-knowing you are never alone, never on your own, and never without resources!