Speaking on Romans 8:28

All speakers have their own way of prepping for a speaking engagement. Some prefer minimal prep so they can be as natural as possible. Others jot down notes on various things like napkins, note cards, or whatever else might be lying around. Me? I’m in a whole different group who likes to write out every single word. This is certainly the most labor intensive way but I do it for a couple of reasons. 1) It allows me to fully flesh out where I’m going with an idea, and 2) it really commits whatever I’m speaking about to my heart. Notice I said heart, not memory. See, no matter what I’m speaking about, I have to make a heart connection to it. I have to be able to FEEL it in addition to know it.

That’s what I did in this talk I gave back in 2017 for Ignite Life’s Worship Week events. You can read the full talk below and if you’d also like to see the video, it’s linked at the bottom of this page. Something really cool happened after prepping and then delivering this talk a couple of times. Not only did my heart connect with it, my heart also healed because of it. In the talk, I tell a really heartbreaking story that I lived through and prior to giving this talk, I always felt like it was a wound that would immediately open up again if I dwelt too much on it. Prepping this talk and then delivering it allowed God room to heal the wound, which I see as further proof of the truth of Romans 8:28. One other note about this talk… I delivered it only days after 1October, which was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history here in Las Vegas. Romans 8:28 is a weighty verse to begin with, and was even more so in light of those events!

Ready? Here it is. 🙂

In July of 2003, I started working for a mortgage company selling debt consolidation loans over the phone. It was my first “real” job out of college and I felt so fortunate to have found a well-paying job in the post-9-11 economy. I knew within the first couple of weeks that the work itself was an uphill battle for me. I’m an introvert and as it turned out cold calling people to sell them a mortgage was pretty far outside my comfort zone and not something I was particularly good at. But I worked in a small office with five employees and within a few months we all felt like family. I loved them SO MUCH. I struggled with the work but I knew they always had my back. The cutthroat sales culture that existed elsewhere in our company was not present with us, mostly due to our boss Gayle, who is just a fantastic human being. She was one of my first examples of true leadership. One of my other examples was our assistant manager, Brian. Brian had an ability to connect with people that I hadn’t seen up to that point in my life. He was a constant source of fun in the office, from chair races to dressing up in Gayle’s old maternity clothes, to coining phrases such as “fine comb toothbrush,” not to be confused with the more commonly known “fine toothed comb.” He worked hard and played hard and we had so many fun days in that office.

It’s so easy to see God working in the good stuff. Those “mountaintop” moments make us feel like God is right there next to us, throwing doors open and cheering us on as we run through them like a marathon runner going through the tape at the end of the race. But what about the “valley” moments? It’s equally as easy to feel like God has left the building.

Romans 8:28 says “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.”

I want to spend some time tonight unpacking this verse and encouraging you to rest in its truth. Our city has been through a lot in the past week and a half. If we don’t take anything else away from tonight, I hope that we walk away with an understanding that God is near and he is FOR US. This event was planned long before this tragedy happened and I believe that God in his providence knew the truth we would need to hear right at this moment.

Romans 8 was authored by the Apostle Paul and it was intended to give the Romans an in-depth description of the Christian spiritual life. We find this verse towards the end as Paul is addressing living by the power of the Spirit in the midst of suffering and pain. Paul himself was no stranger to suffering and pain so he was fairly qualified to speak on the subject. He didn’t speak this verse lightly – it was not meant to be a Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses view of the world. And if you look at the text of the verse, this promise is directed right to us as Christians through the words “of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Because of this, I believe our responsibility to live in the truth of this verse is huge. Paul told us this so that we could boldly be the hands and feet of Jesus, pushing back the darkness in the world and knowing that God was for us. I know that I have certainly misunderstood and misapplied this verse in the past. There are two key parts that I think we run the risk of misinterpreting – the words “all things” and the word “good.” When we read this, we are sometimes tempted to squish up the words and come away with an understanding that “all things” ARE “good.” There are some who secretly doubt the truth of this verse because of this misinterpretation. And the response often is “What do you mean by good?”

Sickness is not good.

Murder is not good.

Divorce is not good.

Suicide is not good.

The death of a child is not good

To be clear, all things are not good. We live in a fallen world with evil and lots of broken people/situations. The “all things” in our lives sometimes include things we wish we never had to live through.

When we look at tough situations, our danger is that we judge what we cannot see by what we can see. When tragedy strikes, if we can’t see a purpose, we assume there isn’t one. But the very opposite is true. Many of the things that make no sense when seen in isolation are in fact working together to produce something good. There is a divine synergy even in the darkest moments, a synergy that produces something positive. And the “good” that is ultimately produced could not happen any other way.

In late 2003, Gayle announced that she had accepted a new position in Des Moines, IA and would be moving away. Brian was promoted to store manager and was doing a fantastic job as our team grew. I remember one particular day he called me into his office to go over my performance review. I was still struggling with the job and was fearful of what this review might hold. As Brian went through my review, he said something that I will never forget. He said, “As long as I work here, you will always have a job. Even if that means I have to get on the phone and sell loans to give you credit for, I’ll do it.” I was floored. Based on my performance, I didn’t deserve that level of grace and yet there it was. Isn’t this how Jesus pursues our hearts? We don’t deserve it and yet He will do whatever it takes to win our hearts.

Little did I know that God was working a little bit of divine synergy in my life in 2004. On the 29th of February – it was a leap year – I met up with a dear friend Brittney and told her that I was really thinking about a career change and that selling mortgages over the phone wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, no matter how much I loved the people I worked with. I told her that there was an underwriting and processing facility that had just opened up in Las Vegas and I had been thinking about possibly applying there. I was somewhat hesitant in telling her this because honestly I thought it was completely crazy. Who moves to Vegas?! But she surprised me by saying, “Go for it! You’re not married, you have no kids and you’re not tied down to this area. This is the time to make a change.”

Unbeknownst to me, that same day, Brian, his twin brother Kevin and their friend Mike decided to go out fishing on a reservoir in a neighboring town. They did not have life vests and the wind had really picked up that day, making it choppy and cold. Not long after getting out on the water, the boat started taking on water and eventually capsized, dumping them all into the cold water. Mike was able to float on a cooler that had fallen out of the boat and Brian and Kevin decided to try to swim to shore. By the time Mike was rescued, Brian and Kevin could not be found.

Now, when I walked into work on Monday, I didn’t know any of this of course. When I got there, I was surprised to see a previous employee sitting at his old desk making phone calls. When I asked what he was doing there, he told me what happened. You have to understand, this guy could deliver a joke completely deadpan and we never knew if he was kidding or not. I actually laughed when he told me what happened, assuming he was kidding because it was so unbelievable. The look on his face convinced me that it was true. The next few days were a complete blur as the search for Brian and Kevin continued. Over the next month, we hoped for the best and braced ourselves for the worst. As we fielded phone calls from the community, we struggled to make sense of all of it. Finally, after calling in the same search team that searched the San Francisco bay for Laci Peterson, the worst came true and Brian and Kevin were found in the reservoir. The entire community was utterly devastated and mourned the loss of these two amazing men. Kevin had recently gotten engaged to be married and Brian left behind a 2.5 year old son and a pregnant wife. She decided to name the baby Brevin to honor the memory of his dad and uncle.

The memorial service was held in March of 2004 and we tried to return to normal. A new branch manager came on board and after he made a particularly insensitive comment about how we needed to “get back to work” I was reminded of my conversation with my friend Brittney over a month earlier. I decided to reach out to someone I knew in Vegas and by May, I was sitting in the living room of my new apartment, having accepted a job at the processing and underwriting facility. Since then, I have found Jesus in a more real and authentic way than I ever have, I have been stretched sometimes until I thought I would snap in two, and I am now fully involved in using my gifts in ministry. Has it been easy? Not by a long shot. Would I prefer that Brian and Kevin were alive and enjoying their lives? Yep. But I also recognize the tremendous good that God has done through what happened. Brian and Kevin’s family started a foundation in their honor and for the past 13 years, they have given more than 165 scholarships to high school seniors for close to $45,000.

Our challenge as Christians is to be able to see the “good” from the correct perspective. For most of us, “good” equals things like health, happiness, solid relationships, long life, money, food on the table, meaningful work, and a nice place to live. In general, we think the “good” life means a better set of circumstances. This is our human perspective.

What is “good” according to God? Dr. Ray Pritchard from Keep Believing Ministries wrote a fantastic sermon in 2012 entitled “Can We Still Believe Romans 8:28?”. He says, “Anything that makes you more like Jesus Christ is good. Anything that pulls you away from Jesus Christ is bad. God is committed above all to making you like his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And whatever it takes to make you more like Jesus is good.” The things that we focus on as “good” are not necessarily bad things but in light of an eternal perspective, those comforts can actually be a barrier to becoming more like Christ.

This,I think, is our greatest problem with Romans 8:28. Our good and God’s good arenot the same. We want happiness and fulfillment and peace and long life.Meanwhile, God is at work in us and through us and by everything that happensto us to transform us into the image of his Son.

Does that include the worst that happens to us? Yes.

Does that include the things that hurt us deeply? Yes.

Does that include the times when we are heartbroken? Yes. He is always at work. He is never deterred by us. Nothing happens to us outside his control. There are no mistakes and no surprises. God can do that even when we can’t. God does it even when we don’t believe it.

Within 7 hours of the shooting, over 10,000 people had donated over a million dollars to support the victims in Las Vegas. The GoFundMe effort, launched by Steve Sisolak, sought to raise $2 million initially and is now over $10 million.

Thousands have given blood and organized the donation of food, water and other essential items for first responders and families. Paris darkened the Eiffel Tower as a show of solidarity with Las Vegas. Countless churches have hosted prayer vigils with thousands in attendance. At my church, The Crossing, there were over 3,500 in attendance in person and another 14,000 online. That’s just at one church! Can you imagine the impact across the valley?

We know Romans 8:28 is true not by looking at the events of life, but by knowing God. We know it not by studying the pattern of the cloth, but by knowing the designer of the fabric. We know it not by listening to the notes of the symphony but by knowing the composer of the music.

There are many things we don’t know. But this we do know- God is at work, and he has not forgotten us.

Psalms 34:18 says “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

We can rest in the truth of Romans 8:28 because of who God is. He didn’t even spare his own son in order to reconcile us to Him.

In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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