Monday, March 12, 2007

The Hand of God

An application of Romans 8:28.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

It is interesting how often that this verse is quoted. Often, after suffering a horrible tragedy, someone will inevitably put an arm around the hurting one's shoulder and say, "Well, all things work together for the good." I'm not sure if that's a "word aptly spoken" (Prov. 25:11) or if, at times, these words are spoken instead of "[weeping] with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15). Though I am sure that these words are said with the best of intentions, they may come across like walking up to a screaming woman at a car accident who just lost her husband and saying, "At least he didn't suffer." I hope that turns your should. I think the long and short of I'm saying is this...we must be careful how we apply the Scripture to life and avoid mistaking the context of Scripture or of our lives.

The same is true with Romans 8:28. I am writing to suggest a recently realized application of this Scripture to my own life, but I want to make sure I do it in a way that is fitting and does not misrepresent the Scripture. So, I will try, and I'm sure you can let me know if I am wrong. As a student of the Bible, I must first understand the meaning of this text before I can apply it to anything.

Paul is writing to the Romans about his desire to visit them and preach the gospel (1:15), and then he begins a masterful argument presenting the gospel fully (1:18-8:39). This includes the universal sinfulness of mankind (1:18-3:20), the justification that is by faith in Christ alone (3:21-5:21), answering some objections to such a salvation (6:1-7:25), and teaching about the Holy Spirit and the believer (8:1-39). Having written that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God (8:26-27), Paul now shows us what this will looks like, namely, that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

However, Paul doesn't stop here, and neither should we. To what end is God working all things? What is the good He is seeking? Look at the end of verse 29, " become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." He is working all things for our good, which is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Why is being conformed to the image of Christ so good? Because it shows Him to be the firstborn (i.e.- supreme, pre-eminent, most highly honored) among many brethren. Our greatest good is that our Christ is shown to be glorious and supreme in this universe, so God works all things together for that good, which is manifested in us becoming like Christ. This is what Paul means in Romans 8:28.

Now, how have I realized the application of this truth lately? It has not been in ordinary things that we think of in looking for things that will make us like Christ. Though the teaching of the Word, the trials of life, and victories over temptation can be seen as direct applications of what God is doing to make me more like Christ, I have seen something large large that I sat down to write this blog.

If you are keeping up, you know that my wife and I are planning to adopt internationally. I even asked for your prayers in this plan...that God would provide all we need to make it happen. For the reasons given in that post (Adoption: Not Just a Teenager Mother's Option), I believe that adopting is part of God's way of making me more like Christ. I, again, submit that your involvement with the care of orphans in some way will be part of God's work in your own life.

Well, God has been providing all the money that we need, and if our figures are correct, we only need the money to travel and bring home our child. We are still going through the process and have not officially connected with a specific child yet, but the money is falling into place dollar by dollar. How? A few ways. (1) We have received a few unexpected checks. These have been gifts from new and old friends, as well as a sizable refund from our insurance company (something that hasn't happened in our nine years of marriage). (2) We have extra money in savings that we can pull out temporarily and put back in within three months. (3) I have a retirement account that I can borrow against (up to half of the total). Amazingly enough, the amount available to me is exactly what we need to pay the adoption agency and officially identify with a child.

I can hear it through the screen, "Wait a second! Borrowing money! How is that God's provision?" Fair question. At first, I didn't want to use this money, though it is mine. However, I want you to consider three things with me. First, the circumstances under which I got this money. Second, the hand of God on government. Third, a kingdom perspective of money.

First, the money that is sitting in my Annuity Board account was put in there by First Baptist Church Oviedo. This was the first church in which I served as a full-time pastor. I worked with middle school students. It was at this church that my faith and security in God's call to ministry were tested. The CEO-minded pastor was a great source of turmoil. Not only was his philosophy of ministry radically different than mine, but he also tended to be a dictatorial micro-manager. I can say, with all honesty, that I now only mean that as the briefest, suitable description of him. In August 2001, I was told that I would have to change some things about the middle school ministry. I went into this meeting and was told that the only change necessary was that I find a new church to serve by December 1. I was fired, and not by the pastor, but by the associate pastor. The pastor no longer interacted with me. Long story short (too late), God gave me greater confidence in His call to ministry and less fear of what man can do to me through this experience. He also revealed weak places in me that needed to be strengthened. That was all I took away from the whole Oviedo ordeal...until recently. This past week, I realized that I also took away two years worth of annuity contributions. The church gave 10% of my salary total to my retirement account. Through this hard time of trial and testing and teaching, the Lord began an account that would grow to exactly double what I needed at the moment I would need it for this adoption.

Second, God's hand has been on the government. The Scripture says that government has been established by God (Rom. 13:1) and that the heart of the king is in the hand of God and directed by God (Prov. 21:1). God is sovereign over the government of any nation, and in 2001, God moved our Congress to increase the tax credit for those who adopt from $5,000 to $10,000 starting in 2006. Why? God's heart is with the orphan, and by His providence, those who relieve the suffering orphan through adoption will be rewarded in this way. Because of this change in the tax law, every penny that I take out of my account will be given back to me in one year by means of a tax credit (which is actually's a reduction in taxes owed). Because we always get some kind of return, this will increase our tax return so that the retirement account will be restored and our debt will be paid. Praise God!

Third, I have to use money for kingdom purposes. I believe that it is responsible to save for retirement, but at what expense? Is it so wise that I save for retirement that I ignore God's call to the mission field, where money will be sparse? Is it so wise that I save for retirement that I not give generously to my local church and other worthy ministries? Is it so wise to save for retirement that I not put it on hold for one year so that I may rescue the orphan? It seems that the kingdom has to win out in decisions like these. The same God that has provided for my retirement account will provide in my retirement. If I die old and poor and having given much to the work of the kingdom, then praise God. If I die old and rich and have given little to the work of the kingdom, then God have mercy on me.

So, now back to Romans 8:28 to finish up. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." God has worked to provide money...through gifts...through our previous discipline to save...through a hard two years in Florida and moving the hearts of government. What is all this for right now? God has worked all of this together so that my family can be part of God's purposes in providing for and defending the cause of the orphan. By God's grace, participating in the relief of the orphan will make me and my wife and my children more like Christ. Becoming more like Christ will glorify Him as the supreme One...the One who is to be honored above all. In other words, God has done all of this for my good and, more significantly, for His glory.