Pulpit guest: Joe Karnes
Economic volatility brought on by massive unemployment, a roller coaster stock market and recession.
Many people are anxious, uncertain and fearful of what is to come. They feel isolated and powerless to change what is going on. Into this bleak and troubling world comes the promise of hope from our New Testament reading this morning:
And we know that ALL things work together for good for those who love God and our called according to His purpose.
Notice the comprehensiveness of this promise. ALL things…the good and the bad, things we understand and things we have can’t figure out. Do we really believe the truth of this verse? If so, how do we apply it in our human experience?
While you think about that question, let’s look at some examples of how this promise has been proven true in the past.
Story of Joseph
His brothers were jealous of him so they sold him to a group of travelers who take him to Egypt. There he is sold again, this time to Potiphar, the Captain of Pharaoh’s body guards. The Lord was with Joseph so he became successful eventually being made overseer of Potiphar’s entire household, over all he owned.
But then Joseph has his world turned upside down again. He is accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison. The Lord is still with Joseph and he gains favor with the chief jailer. Two years later Joseph is called before Pharaoh to interpret dreams. He does so successfully, he is released from jail and Joseph goes on to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Age 30.
Famine hits, and his brothers need food. Going to Egypt, they are told to see Joseph. Joseph sees the big picture:
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numberous people, as he is doing today.
And certainly the truth of Romans 8:28 is evident in Joseph’s story.
A modern day example of this promise can be seen in Alex Smith. We here in the Kansas City area know Alex as the former starting quarterback for the Chiefs. He led KC to 50 wins in five years, multiple playoff appearances and led the NFL in passer rating his last year as the Chiefs’ starting QB. But instead of rewarding Smith with a new contract he is traded to Washington so Patrick Mahomes can become the starter. Much like Joseph, Alex Smith had to deal with adversity beyond his control. Instead of being sold into slavery or put in jail, his world is turned upside down when Smith suffers a devastating injury. On Nov 18, 2018 Smith is sacked and suffers a spiral, compound fracture of his lower right leg. In the hospital he gets a flesh eating bacteria which threatens not only his leg but his life as well. 13 surgeries over 59 days are performed on Alex to save his life and give him the chance to recover. At this point when many of us might be saying why me, Alex tells his wife:
Do you know how many people would trade places with me? Do you know the blessings we have and we can’t take them for granted. Not for a minute.
Alex would go on to have 4 more surgeries and go through months of physical therapy as he gained strength to walk, jog and then run again. He missed all of the 2019 NFL season but has come all the way back. Alex has rejoined his teammates and is on the active roster in Washington.
It is that focus on perspective, on the blessings in life while we are in the midst of struggle that empowers the truth of Romans 8:28.
Paul speaks to this earlier in chapter 8 when he writes, “Walk according to the Spirit. Set your mind on the Spirit.” A mind set on the Spirit, the scripture says, leads to life and peace. Isn’t that what we all want?
Notice the call to set your mind on the Spirit is in the present tense. You can also say keep on being mindful. This is a choice we face every day. When my kids were growing up I used to say to them “Don’t be Eeyore.” You remember Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh stories. He was always gloomy and pessimistic. Eeyore did not set his mind on the spirit but instead focused on his circumstances. A few verses later Paul tells us our present sufferings are far outweighed by the glory that will be revealed to us.
In 1781 as George Washington’s army surrounded General Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British band was said to have begun playing an old English folk tune called “The World Turned Upside Down.” The first few stanzas go like this:
If buttercups buzz’d after the bee,
if boats were on land, churches on sea…
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse…
if summer were spring and the other way round,
then all the world would be upside down.
Does it seem to you like we are living in an upside down world? A global pandemic that has infected 5 million people and killed more than 200 thousand in the US.
There is more polarization of ideology and politics than at any time in the last 50 years with an election just weeks away.
Theologian Dr Derek Thomas in commenting on this verse says, “This future glory is so great that present sufferings are insignificant by comparison. Future glory is forever, suffering is temporary.” In fact, that is God’s ultimate purpose…that we will all be glorified in Christ Jesus.
I know that when we are facing difficult situations that setting our mind on the Spirit may not be the first response. More often than not, our first response is to blame someone or something for the tough spot we find ourselves in. Instead Paul tells us in Romans 8:26–27:
The Spirit also helps us with our weakness for when we do not know how to pray as we should the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We can also call upon the almighty power of God the Father as we strive to experience the truth of Romans 8:28. In his excellent book This is What We Believe, Timothy Tennent takes readers through the Apostle’s Creed. Remember it begins:
I believe in the God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
The reference to Father Tennent points out is language of intimacy. God wants to be in relationship with us. Fatherhood denotes love, tenderness, nurture and protection. Almighty denotes power, strength, authority, and might.
We can access the same power that created heaven and earth in and through our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t have to face difficult, heart breaking situations on our own strength. The disciples learned this in dramatic fashion in our New Testament reading from Mark. They were facing a life-threatening storm. Their world was about to be literally turned upside down and they reacted much, I think, the way we would. They woke Jesus up and said to him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Shouldn’t they have known better? How did Jesus respond? He rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. That is the power of our almighty God.
The final example of Romans 8:28 comes from my own experience. In fact, it took place when I was early in my faith and looking back I know it has shaped my thinking and confidence in the promises of scripture as I have faced many challenges since then. When I was a high school junior I auditioned for a theatre company at the Kalamazoo Civic. The audition was open to students from 5 surrounding cities. I made the company and was cast in roles in two musicals we would be performing that summer. Two Gentlemen of Verona and Showboat.
I was also given a solo in the pre-season show which would kick off the season. The song was “Bewitched” from the musical Pal Joey.
Here is my world-turned-upside-down part of the story. A few days before the show I began to lose my voice. By the morning of the show I could barely speak above a whisper. Since it was Sunday I went to church and told a few friends and the pastor of my situation. During the joys and concerns part of the service that morning the pastor shared that I needed prayer and so the congregation prayed that my condition would improve and that I would be able to sing that night.
The challenge for me as a 17-year-old kid was to set my mind on the Spirit and not worry about all the possible outcomes as curtain time approached. When I got to the theatre my voice was clear but I had no power, and I really didn’t know how the performance would go. It was warm that night, but the air conditioner in the theatre was not working so there was no extra noise that might have been there if the blower kicked on during my song. To try and cool themselves, many people in the audience had made fans out of their programs, but as I walked out on stage to sing most stopped fanning. This too, cut down on noise. I walked as far downstage as I could to be closer to the audience and as the song began I sang softly at first but clear, hitting all the notes. I gained confidence with each stanza and was able to sing more boldly as the song neared its ending: “I’ll sing to her, bring spring to her and long for the day when I’ll cling to her. Betwitched, bothered and bewildered am I.”
After the show was over several people offered congratulations and told me how well I had done. They had no idea I could hardly talk only hours before. For me it was an early lesson in answered prayer and the promises of God.
We do not have to be bothered and bewitched. Whether we are betrayed and falsely accused like Joseph. Suffer disappointment and setbacks on the job like Alex Smith, or have doubts about a future outcome like I did. God is faithful to his promise that “all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.” This does not mean we won’t be spared hardship, disease, doubt, and all the other difficulties of life. The take-away I think is in how we face those difficulties. Do we try and do it on our own, or do we set our mind on the Spirit and trust in the powerful promise of Romans 8:28?