For the Good

A very long time ago, I worked for a wonderful church that went through a major building project. We purchased 63 acres of land three miles from our building and built a second campus with a thousand-seat worship center. Just months before we took occupancy of the building, the congregation was invited to write their favorite scripture on the concrete floor before the carpet was laid. Folks were encouraged to figure out where they would probably sit in the new sanctuary (based on where they sat every Sunday in the current one) and write their scripture in that spot. See! We understand how important “your pew” is to you!

The other pastors and I chose a place in the front where we anticipated sitting. I took the big Sharpie pen and wrote, “For God can use ALL things for the good of those who love him, and who are called to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I left that church 11 years ago, and those words are still there on the floor. I have experienced the truth of that scripture all of my life. No matter what comes our way….death, cancer, job loss, estrangement, pandemics….God can use those things for our GOOD.

If we let him.

And that’s the point.

Let’s back up a moment and look at that verse in its context:

Romans 8 (Contemporary English Version)

26 In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. 27 All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people.

The power of these two verses is profound.

When we are weak, the Spirit is here to help.

When we don’t know how to pray, all we have to do is groan.

God knows our thoughts at all times.

He understands what the Holy Spirit is doing…and what the Holy Spirit is doing is praying the prayer you can’t form the words to say.

Feel better yet?

 28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.

Here is the trick. God is always at work for our good, but we have to yield to his understanding of what is good. We have to train ourselves to have the faith and humility to lay down our concept of “good” in exchange for his.

When I left that church, I was convinced it wasn’t a good thing. I was wrong. When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I knew no good would come of it. Good things did come. When this horrific pandemic hit, I gave up all hope that there would be anything good in life again. Yet all around me I see evidence to the contrary. I see people reaching out to help others in ways they NEVER would have done in their pre-pandemic busyness. I see families slowing down and spending quality time with each other. I see ingenuity, creativity, compassion, and scientific understanding growing exponentially. People are reading more scripture and experiencing the presence of God in new and surprising ways. And as a nation, we are confronting and discussing centuries-old issues that we have suppressed for way too long. Do we see a lot of bad right now? Absolutely. But yielding to God’s understanding of “good” requires that we see beyond the bad.

Need more convincing? How about this:

Because we are driving less, places like Washington DC, Los Angeles, and cities in China are reporting the cleanest air they have seen in decades.

Less large ship traffic in the waters is providing relief during the annual migration of sound-sensitive animals such as humpback whales.

Walmart just announced they will be closed this Thanksgiving. Folks, that is not only good, it’s a miracle!

So is the pandemic good? Oh, heck no. But can God use bad things for our good in some way? Yes. Even in this horrific time, God is still and always will be working for our good.

Where can you claim the good today? What one thing has gotten better since this started? What aspect of your life would you not go back to when the pandemic is lifted?

Think on those things, and ponder them in your heart today.

Quiet at the Docks by Michelle Robertson

Life on God’s Terms

Toddlers are such unique creatures! Somewhere around age two to four, children move from being dependent babies to becoming individuals who are separate from their parents. This transition comes with independent thinking, resulting in children wanting to do things their way. Toddlerhood is all about trying to do life on their own terms…and it’s exhausting.

Our twin toddlers are in this stage right now, and the challenge is REAL. On any given day they refuse naps, are very particular about their clothing choices, insist on carrying their alligators all day, and will or won’t cooperate depending on their moods. Each day brings a new expression of stubborn independence.

I wonder if God ever looks at us doing the same thing and thinks to himself, “What a group of toddlers I created!” Thank God HE never gets exhausted.

Part of the challenge to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic is that some people refuse to give up freedoms they feel entitled to as part of living life on their own terms. This week a friend described watching a large group of teenagers doing “chicken fights” on the beach. It’s hard to practice social distancing on each other’s backs.

Doing life on God’s terms is always the better way. It involves asking God to move in and set up permanent residence. It requires us to give over our terms to receive the life he has promised:

Romans 8 (The Message)

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.

Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?

When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

I love how this passage points out that if God has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. This is an important reminder to us in this moment. The call to obedience we experience as followers of God should have prepared us for this season of doing hard things for the greater good.

God is calling us to think more of each other than we think of ourselves. That means following all the social distancing guidelines and demanding that our kids do so as well.

These are hard days. This season will be long, and requires a lot of sacrifice. But we know that when we live life on God’s terms, we will not only experience God living and breathing in us, but we will be delivered from that dead life of living only for ourselves. God’s spirit dwelling in us guarantees it, and blesses it.

Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh! Photo by Lisa Cobb Lawrence

Relentless

The word relentless conjures up so many images. The helpful salesman at the car dealership. Athletes preparing for the Olympics. Perfume-sample people at the mall. Wrestlers. A two-year-old. The pace of the music in Hamilton.

To be relentless is to show no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace: to be unrelenting. Relentless people have a stick-to-itiveness that others lack: they get the job done. I often think that had I been relentless in my piano practicing, I might actually play the piano today. I do not. Somewhere along the way, other things crowded in and I lost my momentum. Has that ever happened to you?

One thing that is completely relentless is God’s love for you.

Romans 8 (The Message)

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.

It doesn’t matter who you are.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone backwards.

It doesn’t matter how deep your sin is, how high your disobedience gets, how wide your lies are, or how narrow your hope is.

It doesn’t matter.

God’s love for you and his RELENTLESS forgiveness will follow you to the depths of hell and bring you back. Nothing can get between you and God’s relentless love because of the way that Jesus has embraced you.

So the next time you fall flat on your face and can’t get up, remember that God put his life on the line for you, and NOTHING…not trouble, not hatred, not hard times, or hunger….NOTHING can separate you from the great love of God through Jesus Christ, our relentless savior.

Winter Shrimpers by Michelle Robertson