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All Things Work for Good

One of the many verses in the Bible that is often misquoted or said at the most inopportune times is Romans 8:28.  I have heard well-meaning Believers quote or paraphrase this verse more so to remove their own feelings of inadequacy and not knowing what to say than any real words of empathy for the person that is going through a difficult life event.  Paul tells us “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.”[1]  So people jump to this verse thinking it will surely soothe the pain or misery someone is experiencing at that very moment.

So how can we say cancer or a terminal illness works for good; how can we tell a young mother that has just lost her unborn child “in all things God works for the good; how do we tell someone that has just lost a loved one that was not saved and did not know the Lord as their personal Savior that will work for good; how do we tell those around the world that are persecuted and some even killed for their belief that Jesus Christ is the one true Savior works for good? The list could go on and on because there are many things that happen in our world that cannot and should not be described as good.  Yet God’s Word says plainly “And we know that in all things God works for good.”  So how do we take these disasters, persecutions, and tragedies and apply them to this verse?  I am going to do my very best, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to break down the key components of Romans 8:28.

In the opening of verse 28 there is a promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good.”  It doesn’t say maybe, we guess, or sorta kinda, it says “WE KNOW”.  We can be confident in knowing that God works for the good.  This raises the first dilemma.  So many of today’s men view the world and what happens in it from a temporal point of view.  A temporal point of view is looking at situations in the here and now and is based on immediate time and circumstances not eternity.  To fully embrace the meaning of this verse and the promise it makes we must have an eternal point of view which means we may not be able to see God’s plan with our physical eyes but we know nonetheless that He is working His master plan all of the time even when it seems He is not.

John Piper[2] says it this way “When it comes to the architecture of promises, there are not any bigger buildings than Romans 8:28. This structure is absolutely staggering in its size. It is massive. The infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. What brick would you lay on the top of this skyscraper promise to make it taller? “All things” means all things.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, straw houses of deadening drugs, tin roofs of retirement plans, cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply cannot be blown over. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge, security, hope and power in your life. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Romans 8:28.”[3]

So to whom is this promise?  It is actually defined in two ways.  The first is “those who love Him.”  Those that do not love the Lord cannot claim this promise.  It is a promise made to those who love Him.  This aligns itself with what is described in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment.  He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”[4]  But Jesus did not stop there, He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”[5]  If we do not love the Lord with everything we have … heart, mind, soul and strength … then we will not understand, or benefit for that matter, from the promise made in Romans 8:28.  And if we do not accomplish the first we will most certainly not achieve the second.  In order for us to experience the promise of “that in all things God works for the good,” we must totally and completely love the Lord with everything we have.  This holds true regardless of whether we are in the best of times or the worst of times we must love the Lord our God always.

Paul goes on to add one additional component to Romans 8:28 when he says “who have been called according to His purpose.”  Being “called” is not a frequent topic in today’s church and therefore it is often misunderstood.  Paul gives a powerful word picture when he says “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[6]  While many may hear the Gospel, not all will accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  While many may be exposed to the Word of God not all will receive it by faith and stand firmly upon it.  We are called to salvation by the Holy Spirit, we are justified by faith and we are glorified by our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  If we were to break it down to the very root of being called to God’s purpose, it is to be more like Jesus every day. When we accept the challenge of living our lives like Jesus it is then that we begin to see how God can take all of the good, the bad, and the ugly and use it for good.  You see it’s not about us but it is all about Jesus.  It is when we put all three pieces of Romans 8:28 together that we can see what an incredibly awesome God we serve and He is more than capable of achieving the passage that 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.”


[1] Romans 8:28.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
[3] This quote is taken from a message John delivered October 13, 1985 entitled “Called According to His Purpose”
[4] Mark 12:30
[5] Mark 12:31
[6] Romans 8:30

 

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HORIZONTAL THINKING VS. VERTICAL THINKING

I originally wrote this article under a different title in January of 2005.  Since that time the magnitude and importance of this subject has grown to a level that may determine the very survival of the United States as we have known it.  For that reason, I have updated the article to reflect the importance of “vertical thinking” to God’s men and my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit can use it to move men to live the lives God desires.

Too many men, including men in the church, become victims of “horizontal thinking.”  What in the world is horizontal thinking you ask?  It is simply getting caught up in the world’s definition of success.  In his book “THE MAN IN THE MIRROR” [1] Patrick Morley writes “Today men are consumed by desires to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” A man allows himself to focus on temporal gain to make him feel like a “real man.”  The next promotion, a newer more expensive car, a bigger house, big boy toys (trucks, sports cars, motorcycles, boats, country club memberships, etc.) and numerous other achievements and physical “things”.  Not that any of these things are in and of themselves evil, it is when we devote most or all of our energy to achieve them that they become dangerous.  They are often devious and subversive in how they take hold of a man’s vision of what his life is supposed to be.  Before long, he is consumed with the “horizontal issues” in life and he has lost interest in pursuing or maintaining a vertical relationship with his Heavenly Father.  At this point Satan becomes his greatest ally by showing him all kinds of reasons why his actions are justified.  “I’m doing this for my family”; “I know I’m not conducting my life the way God wants me to but once I accomplish this goal, I’ll get things in order”; “Doesn’t God want successful people in His church”; “If I gain more then I can give more” and so many other rationalizations that we are convinced will keep God at bay.  The interesting thing is “later” rarely ever gets here and the groundwork has been laid for a man to continue down the path of “horizontal thinking.”  What a man intends to do and what he actually does can often go in completely opposite directions.  That is what makes “horizontal thinking” so dangerous.

The best way for us get an understanding of “horizontal thinking” is to look at a scriptural example.  Mark tells us of a rich young man that comes to Jesus to pose a question.  “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’  Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ’There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’   At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” [2]

Jesus knew He was being set up when the young man called Him “Good teacher.”  You see the young man already had a preconceived answer for which he was looking.  When he told Jesus he had followed the “law” since his youth he expected Jesus to tell him he had already accomplished what was required of him to get into heaven.  When Jesus tells him to “sell everything you have”, it wasn’t because Jesus found fault with wealth but it was the fact that this young man placed more importance on his wealth than he did in his relationship with Jesus.  He was caught up in “horizontal thinking” and he had lost site of the more important “vertical thinking.”  It is also important for us to note that the scripture says that Jesus “loved him.”  In spite of the fact that Jesus knew this young man was trying to set Him up, Jesus was drawn to the young man and His desire was to open the young man’s eyes to the importance of a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father.  The young man walks away “sad” because he didn’t get the answer he expected and he was unwilling to let go of his “horizontal thinking” to gain a vertical relationship with Jesus.

I love how “THE MESSAGE” gives us a reminder on this issue.  It says “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.” [3]   This writing indicates we should not only take this issue seriously (“And please don’t toss this off as insignificant”) but also recognize that God takes it very seriously. It is also important to note that it tells us “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  It is not within God’s nature to try and derail us from being obedient.  These verses also let us know there will be “divine judgment” for those who interfere and draw God’s children away from “the true course of obedience.”

So how do I avoid “horizontal thinking” and strive to maintain “vertical thinking?”  First let’s acknowledge that it is not always the easiest task to accomplish, but it can be accomplished.  It starts with what Rick Warren so aptly stated in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.”   You see, “vertical thinking” is focused on God and not on self.  All men, by our very nature, are selfish to one degree or another.  Throughout history this has been the eventual downfall of so many men because they became more and more focused on satisfying themselves above all else.  David gives us a good “test” for our daily walk with the Lord.  David writes “Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?   Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.  Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts.  Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever.” [4]  Let’s look at several of the items David has listed here to help us maintain our “vertical thinking.”

David tells us we are to walk “blameless” and do what is “righteous.”  Blameless does not mean without sin. It does mean we are known to maintain a lifestyle that is based upon “integrity.”  If there is one thing our society today could use more of, it is men of integrity.  The dictionary definition of integrity is “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”   Integrity for God’s man is strict adherence to God’s code of conduct, not the world’s.  It’s doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do with no ulterior motive.  It is doing what you say you are going to do and if you can’t, it’s letting people know you will not be able to keep your word.  God’s man does not use integrity only when it is convenient, but at all times – he does so even when it is not easy.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we act in compliance with God’s divine law and by doing so we will be free from sin.  While our relationship with Jesus Christ makes us righteous before God, it is our daily actions and behavior that make us righteous in man’s eyes.

Psalm 15 then tells us God’s man is one “speaking the truth from sincere hearts.   Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  We have all experienced the hurt that comes from someone lying to us.  It is especially painful when it is someone close to us.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we build relationships based upon truth.  That’s why Paul tells us “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.” [5] God’s man does not get caught up in slander and gossip.  James tells us “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” [6]  Peter teaches us “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” [7]  “Vertical thinking” requires that we harness our tongue and stay away from those that cannot control theirs.

David then tells us God’s man is one “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD.”  Who do you look up to; who is your role model?  Are they worldly men that daily represent “horizontal thinking?”  We must realize we are sending a message to others and choose our heroes carefully; it is imperative to choose wisely those lives after which we model our own. “Vertical thinking” requires that we seek out Godly men to set the example which we use as our role models for daily living.

The next issue is God’s man is one “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.”  “Vertical thinking” tells us we keep our promises, even when it is not easy or convenient.  It means we keep our promises even if something “better” come along that we would rather do.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we keep our promises the same way God keeps His promises to us.

God’s man is one “who lends his money without usury.” [8]  Usury means interest.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we utilize the resources God has provided without looking for personal gain or attaching “strings” to the item borrowed.  Simply put, don’t take advantage of someone’s need.  I believe this applies not only to money but in today’s world, it could be said of any resource we have available that could help another person resolve a need or problem.

David then gives us one last item and that is God’s man “does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” [9]  Innocence or guilt should be based upon truth and not whether the accused can “buy” their way out of the situation.  Moses was given very clear instruction from God when He said “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” [10]  “Vertical thinking” means truth cannot be bought at any price.

“Vertical thinking” certainly requires us to maintain very different standards than those set by the world around us.  Who are you living to please? Is it the world or your Heavenly Father?  There is certainly short term satisfaction created by the standards of the world but how does that relate to your eternity?  God’s man uses “vertical thinking” to keep him focused on daily living that leads to long term satisfaction — which is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father with all of the benefits of a good and faithful servant.

I am reminded of that wonderful hymn [11] refrain that says:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.” 

Men, may your life be full of “vertical thinking” and may the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of Jesus magnificent glory and grace!


[1] MAN IN THE MIRROR Solving the 24 Problems Men Face; Written by Patrick Morley; Published by Zondervan Publishing House; Written in 1997 and updated in 2014.
[2] Mark 10:17-22.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[3] Galatians 5 from THE MESSAGE, an interpretation of the Bible
[4] Psalm 15:1-5
[5] Ephesians 4:25
[6] James 4:11
[7] 1 Peter 2:1
[8] Psalm 15:5a
[9] Psalm 15:5b
[10] Deuteronomy 16:19
[11] Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922. copyright status is Public Domain

 

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SELF-MADE VS. FATHER FORGED

Self-Made vs. Father-Forged

By: Pete Alwinson[1]

 

Self-made men inevitably self-destruct.

This is my deep conviction after a life time of personal experience with my own attempts at growth as well as from thousands of interactions with guys as a pastor and speaker. Life is so broken and challenging that it takes its toll on all of us.

Where does this drive to become self-made men come from? The motivational coding which prompts this nearly inevitable masculine tendency rests far below our consciousness, barely discernible to us. Its narrative goes something like this:

“Today I have to make it happen. Again. I have to deliver, I have to succeed, I have to prove my worth and thus prove I’m a man. It’s up to me. Get up man, and get going!”

Unlike women, most men believe they have to prove their manhood every day. This view of what drives us as men is the conviction of sociologist Michael Kimmel in his well-researched volume, Manhood in America: A Cultural History. Every day is a “relentless test” to prove I’m really a man and worthy of being called a man. Yesterday’s worth is gone; it’s history. Each day we start with a tabula rasa of value, a blank slate of worth.

This attitude creates a great deal of “chronic anxiety and insecurity,” and for us this “relentless retesting of an unprovable ambition.” It’s with us from the earliest days. Ultimately, this male self-made man force within us comes from our fallen nature and dysfunctional world.

But in the Gospel we find the really good news that because of what Jesus accomplished for us, we can become Father-forged men instead of self-made men. Grace scripts for us a different narrative of life. At the beginning of each day we can say:

“It’s good to be alive! I am the redeemed and deeply loved son of the Most High God and I can’t wait to spend time with my Father in His Word. It doesn’t get any better than being who I am. The best part of my day is meeting Abba and my Lord Jesus Christ. It gets me filled up for the adventure ahead of me today!”

The grace of God in Christ enables us to truly face our sins and deficiencies as men without despairing or groveling endlessly over our unworthiness and inability to be good men. Time no longer wasted in stressing over our failings or trying to “be the man” can now be spent in resting in His great love for us and in our high identity as the Father’s sons. We can allow our privileged position to leverage us in interacting with the Father on the very areas where we need to grow.

God forges His sons into great men through the fire of our failings with the quiet but transformative Spirit-shaping and sometimes hammering of His Word, reshaping our masculine souls–always under-girded by His deep and abiding love.

Grace enables us to see with extreme clarity the areas we need to change without the accompanying clouding of shame. We can discern the character that needs to be added, as well as the different behavior we may need to implement in a particular situation. The Father-forged man is fueled by grace and love, and connects that love and grace to concrete areas of growth.

How does this work? Let’s say I have to lead and make a decision for my work team or family that I am insecure or fearful about. First, I make an appointment with the Father. I start that time out by focusing on what Christ has done for me out of love. Reading the Word with the Spirit’s power helps here! Resting in and ruminating on the Father’s great, steadfast love and Christ’s accomplishments through His life, death and resurrection, my thinking begins to change. “I’m not a nobody. I’m the Father’s son.”

It’s easy when I’m freed up emotionally in the context of God’s unconditional commitment to confess and repent of my fear, insecurity and failings from the past. I can look my Father full in the face and ask for boldness and wisdom in leading well.

The reality is that during the process I’ve just described, specific wisdom and new strength is already beginning to flow even before I ask for specifics. What I’ve found is that subtle but unbelievable power flows when we first engage God as Father. Self-made manhood becomes a thing of the past because it is a relic of an identity that is being replaced by my true identity as a beloved son.

Pick any subject where we need and want to grow as men–lust, addiction, fear, anxiety, inferiority or leadership. Where grace is mediated from Father to son, sons grow and are forged into the greatness for which they were designed, and for which they long.

But there’s more! This new way of life and manhood is transferrable! With the grace of God in Christ we become more relaxed, authentic and open to other people. No longer needing to play the “I have it all together” game, we move into the lives of other men, helping them to see that they too can abandon the self-made man strategy. They realize the self-made mindset will inevitably cause them to self-destruct, and move into the more exhilarating and motivating life of a Father-forged son. Imagine how simple and powerful it would be to leave no man left behind on the battlefield of life.

So abandon the ultimately self-destructive mindset of self-made manhood. Lean into the grace and honor of being a Father-forged man. When we do, common men like us can help other men become Father-forged men living uncommon lives, promoting the flourishing of men, women, children, churches and culture, for the glory of God.


 

 

[1] This article comes from Man in the Mirror Newsletter.  Dr. Pete Alwinson was a pastor, church planter, lead pastor and seminary adjunct professor for over thirty years.  His lifelong calling is communicating God’s grace and developing men.  Pete has been married to Caron for 36 years.  They have three grown children, two wonderful daughters in law, and three perfect grandchildren who call him “Chief”.