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Words that Redefine the Disciple's Experiences
Scripture: Romans 8:28
Track 11 of 11 in the Life-Changing Words series
Running time: 33 minutes, 54 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, June 19, 2005
1st sermon in an 11 part series
"Words that Redefine the Disciple's Experiences"
Grace-full Words
(Romans 8:28)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

Life is hard. . . . and sometimes you wonder where God went.

Joseph is the young son in a large family. As a matter of fact, next to the youngest and still most popular. His life is testimony about how God works. He has two dreams as a young man. In both of those dreams it's established that he is the one who is to be the leader of the family. He will be the one who is bowed down to by the remaining members of the family. He makes his older brothers particularly fond of him.

One day they are sent off to tend the sheep of the family. Joseph follows them. They decide, first of all to kill him, because they're tired of him and secondly, they decide that's not a good idea, so they throw him in a pit. Some Midianite travelers come along. They sell Joseph into slavery. He ends up in Egypt where God blesses his life and his integrity. He is working for one of the key leaders. He establishes himself as a man that can be trusted.

And Potiphar's wife decides she wants to sleep with him. He rejects her advances again and again and again. Finally one day, she reaches out and grabs him by the coat. He flees, leaving his coat behind. You may have seen it sometime. They call it the technicolor coat on Broadway. She screams that he has actually attacked her. He ends up in prison.

Two of the King's servants, the cupbearer and the baker also end up in prison with Joseph. They have dreams that they don't know how to interpret and Joseph is able to interpret them for them. One is a very positive one. One is a very negative one. The baker ends up being eaten by the birds. The cupbearer gets to serve wine to the King again.

And Joseph's response basically is, when you're up there, back in the presence of the King don't forget me and so the cupbearer promptly forgets him.

Two years later the King has a dream. He doesn't know what to do with it. In fact, he has a pair of dreams and he doesn't know how to interpret them and then the cupbearer remembers Joseph.

Joseph then surfaces. Interprets the dreams. He's made second ruler in the kingdom. Is able to establish a system whereby the grain is stored over a period of years and Joseph becomes wealthy and powerful.

Into the famine and Joseph's brothers are starving in Israel. They journey to Egypt for grain. He recognizes them. They don't recognize him and there is this ongoing kind of game that occurs whereby they take grain and in the process of taking grain he gives them back their money but he also plants his silver cup in one of the bags. So they're arrested.

He wants to know if there are other members of the family. Yes there is still mom and dad and there is my younger brother; although they don't know it's his younger brother. He forces them to bring the younger brother back.

Well, to make a lot longer story short, go to the end of Genesis. Read about the last dozen or so chapters and you'll know the rest of the story. Except that the rest of the story is; they do eventually come to Egypt in order to be helped. Joseph ultimately identifies himself to his brothers and they in fact, do fulfill what that text said. They would bow to him in some kind of submission.

What's fascinating about Joseph's story is that it seems like every place he turned, something bad happens. His brothers sell him into slavery; his owner's wife accuses him of rape; he ends up in prison where he is forgotten and then ultimately finds his way to the top.

It's his comments at the end of the story that have proven so absolutely fascinating over the years. They're found in the 50th chapter of Genesis where this story begins to unwind.

The brothers are rightfully afraid of Joseph because of what they've done to him.

In Genesis 50:19 Joseph says to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? In other words, I'm not here to judge you. Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. "You intended it for harm, but God intended it for good."

My question this morning is, what kind of a mentality is that? And the answer to my own question is this. . . . God never wastes our experiences. . . . .

It's an interesting possibility that God will choose to never waste anything that you go through in your life. Even though, at the moment that you are going through it, you may not fully understand what it is that God is up to. My guess is Joseph had no clue what God was doing when he ended up in a pit, sold into slavery, or, when he ended up in prison, forgotten. But he understood something from God and he based his life on it.

Our text this morning is Romans 8:28. It is among the most popular texts in all of the New Testament. For those who have been believers for a number of years in their life, it would be rare to run across someone who has not memorized this passage of Scripture and if not memorized it, certainly committed it to their soul.

The old King James words it somewhat different than the more modern translations but the message comes out very, very clearly in any translation that you read this in. Here in the 8th Chapter of Romans. Paul's comment to these Roman Christians. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called to his purpose. "God works all things for good".

It's interesting, actually, how that verse starts. The English word order is different than what we would read had we read it when Paul wrote it in the first place. It actually starts this way.

We know that to those who are loving God, God works.

That word order is not an inappropriate thing to call to our attention this morning. We know that to those who are loving God, all of this somehow works out. It is a conditional statement. If you don't love God. . . . .(I hope that's not true for any of you, but I just ought to say this). . . . If you don't love God, this sermon has got really no bearing for you. I apologize! I'm sorry! If you want it to help you, you'll have to fall in love with God because it's to those who love God that this becomes true. Because God makes no promise to work everything out for those who don't love him.

There are some benefits to being a God follower. This is one of them. It is an incredible promise that is made to God's followers; ". . . if you love Me, if you are in the process of following Me, I guarantee to you that I will work out everything for your good."

Interesting text, Romans 8:28 God works. Actually it's God is always working. That's the way it ought to be translated. God always works. God is always working. It's the kind of verb that indicates something that happens all of the time. It isn't that God selectively says, "okay, today I'm going to work; tomorrow I'm not going to work." In every circumstance God is at work. Whether you can see it or not is another matter. But the promise is, "I'm always working . . . . together," He says. It's interesting that in this particular text Paul uses a word that he uses in multiple other places to talk about his co-workers, his co-worker Barnabas, or his co-worker Timothy, or his co-worker Titus. God works together in our lives. He's able to take our experiences and He, working with those, brings them together. God works all things together,. . . . .everything. It's an all encompassing kind of term and this is where the text gets to be so hard to grasp. Because just between you and me and the gate post, there are some things in this life that happen that I can't quite figure out how God's going to do anything with, but there is no limitation here. He says, "I will take whatever happens. . . . any circumstance, and I can do something with it that you can't imagine."

I find myself going back to this fundamental principal that I heard here not too long ago. Somebody said to me here recently, that if you can handle Genesis 1, you can handle anything else in the Bible.

Genesis 1 starts out this way. God created the heavens and the earth. If you can handle the fact that God is the creator of the universe, then nothing else should surprise you. Right? And since I happen to believe that God created the universe, I don't have a deep difficulty trying to sort that out because it's an act of faith on my part to believe that.

I'm going to take just a little detour (oh, I'm sorry, I'm used to a translator. And when I have a translator I have to tell them I'm taking a detour so they know I'm not talking about the same subject any more.) I'm taking a detour here. I've been reading this book by Bill Bryson called "A Short History of Just About Everything" The first four, five, six chapters are all about creation. Now he's talking about stuff that those of you who are in the sciences would understand. I'm a theologian. I know nothing about science. It's so far over my head that I feel like I'm swimming. But when he gets all done with about five chapters of explaining how the world came into existence, he said, "oh by the way, this is all theory." And I found myself sitting there reading this book, thinking. . . .what makes your theory better than my theory? In fact, I am so scientifically naive, I thought it would take an enormous amount of faith to believe this. I'm not sure that it's harder to just simply say God put it all together. Now I know that sounds terribly naive, but if I can handle that, I can handle this. God works all things together for good even when I can't figure out how he's going to do it. Fortunately there's nothing in this text that says I have to understand how He's working. I just have to be willing to accept by faith that He is. He works all things together for good according to His purpose.

See, the implication is in this text that God does have a plan. Sometimes it's hard to see, but the assumption is He has a plan.

Well, I think what this text is trying to say is that God never wastes any of our experiences. That God takes everything that happens and somehow uses that to accomplish something for us. I think what Paul would have you understand is that He works for our good. Now please hear this. Because if you don't hear this part your going to miss the whole point. God does not take everything bad and make it something good. He works for our good in that something.

You will never take child abuse and make it good. Nothing can make that good. Cancer will never be good. Abuse will never be good. The Holocaust will never be good. Racism will never be good. Even God himself cannot make those things good. But He can use them to accomplish good. Please understand that difference, because it's a huge difference.

In the magazine Today's Christian Woman, about a year ago, there was a brief article in there about Evelyn Husband. You may or may not remember her name. You might remember her husband's name Rick Husband. He was the commander of the space shuttle that came apart on the way back to earth.

She was at Cape Canaveral with her seven year old and twelve year old sitting in front of the TV monitor when that thing exploded. What she remembers is this immediate response by the people at Cape Canaveral to get everybody away from a monitor so they didn't have to watch what was happening and they could try to protect them from some of what was apparently unfolding in front of them. One of the things she remembers most vividly are the looks on her children's faces.

The article is about her attempt, in the midst of intense suffering, to establish this truth, that God is faithful. Here's her comment. "Deep inside, I knew God was going to walk me through this somehow. I knew it because He'd walked with me through other crises earlier in my life." She understood something about the nature of God. God produces something of value coming out of our experiences.

Some of what He produces, He produces in us.

It was interesting; Bob Lowery, JK Jones and I were traveling together this past couple of weeks and we were talking one night about our favorite preachers, people that we particularly like to listen to. In the course of the conversation we decided that they all had one thing in common. They had all endured some kind of pain. The common denominator in every one of the lives was that there had been something in their life that had produced enormous pain and they had experienced what God could do with that and it had shaped them into who they had become. And sometimes the good is not worked so much in you as it is in others.

I've mentioned to you on numerous occasions my friend Jack who is suffering from cancer out in California. I've been trying to keep up with him. I had e-mailed him just before I left for this last teaching trip and asked how he was doing, trying to get some kind of an update. Ah. . . . it took a while to get it back because he'd spent some time in the hospital. I asked him specifically, "how can I pray for you." Here is his response. "You can pray that I'll be faithful, and continue to be content. It wouldn't be a tragedy if I died tomorrow but I'd like to live a while longer - to be able to enjoy some 'retirement' years and travel with Carolyn (she was jealous that you're in Austria), to be the 'patriarch' to my sons for a few more years. Last Sunday evening we spent a couple hours in my hospital room discussing the roles of justice and mercy toward those who have committed egregious sin." [It's one of his favorite words. It means flagrant sin.] "It was wonderful to hear my sons' perceptions and commitment to the teaching of Jesus as the standard of behavior. They really don't need me anymore but seeing the results of our child-rearing efforts is truly a blessing."

Do you hear how God has taken the murder of his daughter and his cancer and has shaped the lives of his two grown sons? Because often what God works in not so much in us, as it is in the people around us. But here's the promise.

God never wastes your experience. He always brings out of it something productive, something good. If it isn't for your immediate good, it will be for your greater good, your ultimate good. There are some things that are, in fact, better than just ah. . . . being a kinder person. In fact, if you look at Romans 8:29 and it's impossible to look at Romans 8:28 and not look at verse 29. Then you begin to see what Paul's driving at. Too many of us are wanting to know; well, what is the immediate good that we're going to get out of this? How's God going to turn this around in some positive, productive way? Now I'm not suggesting that He doesn't. Sometimes He does.

There was a fella who came to the surface down in Australia as a singer and he really wanted to be a singer/song writer. And he was actually not too bad at it and so he, frankly, sold the family farm in order to go into Christian music. As it turned out he lost $250,000 booking concerts that nobody came to. So he decided to move to the United States to try to reposition his family; do something good. He still wanted to be involved in the music industry; so, he moved to Nashville, TN in hopes, that somehow, maybe he might get involved in the Christian music industry. As it turns out, frankly, he didn't do so well. But his 15 year old daughter, on the other hand, has done alright for herself. Her name is Rebecca. You would know her family name as St. James.

She was listed here recently as one of the most influential under forty year old evangelical's in the world.

God took that experience of her father's and turned it into something, actually quite remarkable, in just terms of influence.

But it doesn't always come out that way. Sometimes that is what he does in you personally, to shape you into who you are becoming. In fact, if you can't hang on to Romans 8:29 then probably Romans 8:28 is going to fairly meaningless to you.

The text says, We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, . . . .

The ultimate good that God produces in the life of a believer through their hardship is that we begin to look more like His Son Jesus. The more I thought about that, the more I read that, the more difficult that became for me because I realize that not everybody wants to look like Jesus. And so if God is going to work ultimately to our good, His ultimate good is that we're going to look like Christ. We're going to have to ask ourselves this question. Is that what we really want?

That is the vision statement of this congregation you know, that we will be a community of people who look like Jesus. There's an assumption in that and the assumption is that you and I care whether or not we look like Jesus. That somehow in becoming a disciple of Christ; in becoming a Christian; we recognize that a part of that was God's determination to turn us into people who live and act and breathe like Jesus. Whose character becomes like Jesus and if that isn't our ultimate goal; if that isn't what we ultimately want to have become of us, then frankly being a Christian is nothing more than just good fire insurance.

Somehow along the way, those of us who come to Christ because we know we need to be redeemed, we know we need salvation, we know we need to have our lives changed, must at some point, consciously choose to believe that which is best for us is to become like Jesus; to look like Him; to speak like Him, to think like Him; to act like Him. See, whether it's your goal for your life or not, it's God's goal for your life. That becomes abundantly clear as you read the Scriptures. The thing that God wants from you is to turn you into someone like His Son that He can send out into the world to represent Him in this world as Jesus represented Him in this world.

Now not everybody, I want you to hear this, not everybody responds positively to God actively trying to shape you.

In fact, in an article that just came out not too long ago reflective of an interview that was published in 2001 with Jack Welsh, the former chief executive at General Electric; the story is; he grew up a devoted Irish-Catholic, started out as an altar boy. Later, as an adult, his religion was so important to him that when he traveled he would, if he needed to, travel extra hours to be sure he was attending mass. In the book that he wrote called, Straight From the Gut, he writes about the death of his mother. "I felt cheated, angry, and mad at God for taking my mother away." In a USA Today article he says, "I still believe in God but there's no sense going to church." His response to life's hardships were not exactly positive and God will have a hard time working out in his life, his ultimate good, if he hasn't chosen for that to be what he desires.

But if you want perseverance in your life, . . . . . . . . . if you want to be a kind person, if you would like your life in some way to be a respectable life, if you would like to have the characteristics that Jesus exhibited in His life, the only way that you can do that is to allow God to take your experiences and turn them into things that shape you. But you'll have to submit to that.

You see, God never wastes our experiences, but that doesn't mean we don't. Because sometimes we don't allow Him to use them. We don't allow Him to shape us. It's not just that He works for our good. It's not even just that He works for our ultimate good.

To be really honest with you, He works for your eternal good. Because, as far as God is concerned, there are far more important things than this life. There is an eternity.

I was a new Christian when I first went off to a Christian college. I went because I was so Biblically ignorant I thought I probably ought to know something. I ended up meeting a fellow there who's name was Paul; a bit older than I was. As I listened to him I began to pick up that he'd had a variety of experiences in his life that I probably knew nothing about and one night at some meeting we were at, he got up and gave his personal testimony. As a matter of fact he brought out a small, rather beat up old brown suitcase and he opened it up in front of us and he began to pull out what were supposed to be, pieces of clothing. They were the remnants of some clothing actually. They looked like they had been through a major disaster, which as a matter of fact, they were. The problem was, as the clothing went through this major disaster, he was in them.

He was a young man in his early twenties running from God. He'd become a Christian early in his life but he decided he really didn't want what God was trying to do in his life, and so he decided to turn his back on that and walk away. The trouble was, he had people who cared about him, praying for him, that God would do something to draw him back to himself. I need to warn you, that is a dangerous thing to pray for anyone. Don't take that prayer lightly.

Paul was an avid pilot. Not of the great big planes; of the little gas powered ones that you put on a control wire. He was out in a field, thinking he had plenty of room to fly his airplane and he wrapped it around a 20,000 volt power line still attached to the wire cables in his hands. It burned him over 80% of his body. It left a perfect circle about 20 feet around him of charred ground and he lived to tell about it.

His testimony that night was; God will do anything to get you back. And I confess to you that that story thirty years ago scared the socks right off of me. In fact, every time I think about it, it frightens me. And I remember as the years passed and I became more determined than ever that my parents would come to know Jesus, I began to pray this prayer and I tell it to you, not proudly, just honestly. Lord, whatever you have to do to get my parents attention do it, but leave my children alone. I was just deathly afraid that if I literally prayed, God whatever it takes to get to my parents, he might choose to use my children to do it. I wasn't willing to let that happen; as much control as I have over God, but I was at least going to be honest with him and I was going to tell him. If your going to work out your ultimate good, your eternal good in my parents life, I don't care what you do to me, but please leave my children out.

I don't want you to think that I think God is an ogre but what I want you to hear is that I honestly believe that God so wants you in a relationship with him, that if you were open to the possibilities, He will do whatever it takes to call you to Himself. And I want to warn you that it's a dangerous prayer to pray that for your friends because it's hard telling what will happen.

Life is hard . . . . sometimes you wonder where God went. Can I tell you a little secret? He didn't go anywhere. He's right there on the throne where He has always been. . . . doing what He has always done. . . . . working all things together for good to those who love Him.

If you're having a really hard time figuring out how any of the stuff in your life works and why it doesn't seem to be making a lot of sense, can I offer you two cents worth of advice? Trust Him. He knows what He's doing. And while it may not look clear to you today, He is always at work accomplishing what needs to be accomplished in our lives as long as we love Him. He'll work it out.

It is a tall order, however, when life is hard, to trust Him. It's a great deal easier when everything's going well. But that's not the point. The trust has to come when life is really hard. When you're in the pit, or you're in the prison, that's when you need to be willing to say, "I don't know exactly what God is doing, but I'm quite confident that He knows and He's working this out to accomplish His purposes. The challenge to us is simply. . . . .to trust Him!

So we invite you to do that, in spite of the fact that it doesn't make a lot of sense. We invite you to trust Him in spite of the fact that you may not be able to see what it is that He's doing. We invite you to trust Him in spite of the fact that it is sometimes really hard. Trust Him! He will do whatever it takes. Let me rephrase that for you. He's already done whatever it takes. He sent His Son and His Son died for you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us as an expression of the love of God. So He says . . . Trust!

I invite you to just remain seated. Let's just sing through this song together. Let it express that desire to trust Him. If you have questions, if you don't know what to do, if you're not sure how to trust Him, please, right after service is over, come grab a hold of one of us and give us a chance to talk with ya. Let's sing.