James Merritt - Breaking Good
I want you to turn to Romans chapter 8, and as you're turning there, this is a letter, by the way, that a man by the name of Paul wrote, and he actually wound up dying in a prison in Rome, even as he was writing this book. And I want you to listen to what this verse says because it really is an unbelievable verse if it's true. "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".
Now, that verse has to be the most comforting and the most encouraging verse in the Bible because, if it's true, we'll get to that in a moment, but if it's true, then it casts all of our suffering and all of our sorrow and all of our sickness in a totally different light, and it really helps us to be able to look at life, not even know what's gonna happen in the next two minutes, much less what's gonna happen tomorrow, it helps us to look at life in a totally different light and to face the difficulties that come to every single one of us because, assuming this verse is true, and I do, and I've seen it work out in my own life, Paul says, you know, there are three things that we ought to do when things are breaking bad. When we're really disappointed, when we're totally discouraged, when we're even disillusioned with God, Paul says three things we need to do: number one, "I can believe God's promise to me". "I can believe God's promise to me".
Now, let me just tell you something I've learned about God, and there's about God I don't know and won't know till I get to heaven, and even after that, we'll never know, totally understand God, and I get that, but I'll tell ya something I've learned about God in my own life. God never overpromises and under-delivers. Now, we do. Everybody in this room, we've all made promises we hadn't kept, every one of us. Sometimes we made promises we intended to keep, and something happened. We couldn't keep it. Sometimes, to be honest, we made promises that we knew we couldn't keep when we made them. We just made them so we wouldn't make somebody angry or upset or mad, or we didn't wanna disappoint them, but we've all, at some time or another, overpromised and under-delivers.
God never does that. God always delivers on everything he promises. He has a perfect record. When God promises, he always delivers. So listen to the first part of this verse again: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". Now, before I get into the verse and what he's saying, we gotta realize who he's saying it to, and we gotta figure this out. Who is "we"? "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". I mean, the promise is plain, and the promise is true, but it's only true for certain people. It's not for everybody because the "we" in this verse refers to those who love God.
So when Paul said this, he said, "By the way, let me just kind of let you understand something. I'm only talking to you if you love God" because, you know, there are only two kinds of people in the world, right? There are people who love God, and there are people who don't. Now, let me just stop. There are people who say they love God, but they don't love God. So I'm not talkin' about people who say they love God. The world's full of those people. I'm talkin' about people who not only say they love God, they truly love God. This is the promise for people who truly love God. Now, you say, "Okay, well, who are the people who truly love God"? Paul goes on to explain. He says, "Okay, these are the ones who have been called according to God's purpose".
Now, let me tell you what that means. What Paul is saying is God calls everybody to be a part of his family. God wants everybody to be a part of his family, but the ones who are the "we" in this verse are those people who have responded to that call by saying, "You know what? I do wanna be a part of your family. I would like to be one of your children". So these are the people who've realized, "You know what? I got a problem. I'm a sinner, and I'm separated from God because God's perfect, and I'm not. I now realize there's nothing I can do to take care of my sin problem because, at the end of the day, no matter what I do, I'll still be a sinner. I need a Savior," and they realize, "Hey, God sent that Savior, and his name is Jesus, and that Jesus died for my sins, and he came back from the grave so that he could come into my life and forgive me of my sins so I could have a relationship with God, and I can have meaning and purpose in life. Sign me up". And these are the people who have done that, and they are now a part of God's family. They are God's children.
So the promise is not for everybody. It's only for those who know God and love God and worship God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and Paul says, "If you're in that category, if that's who you are, you can know that what God is saying is true". You can know that God keeps his promise. Now, if you heard me say, "Hey, everybody can chill because it's all gonna work out," no, that's not true for everybody. Not everybody can say, "Oh, don't worry. Everything will work out," because everything ultimately doesn't work out for everybody, and that's not what this verse says. What this verse says is "At the end of the day or at the end of your life, God will make sure that, at the end, when it's all said and done, he will work everything out for good of those who love him".
Now let me just stop 'cause some of you may be thinking this right now. You may be saying to yourself, "Oh, wait a minute. I'm not a part of God's family. I've never trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I'm not done what you told me that I needed to do. I never trusted in Christ. I'm kind of doin' my own thing, and I'll just be honest with you, man. Everything's workin' out for me". So you may say, "Well, things are working out today". Maybe they are. That's not what even this verse says. This verse says, "At the end of it all," when you draw your last breath, you can know God will work everything out well for you.
The promise is specifically strong, and it is strongly specific. God works all things out together for good, and, listen, Paul was so adamant. I mean, it took a lot of courage for Paul to say this. He didn't say, "Well, God works most things out for your good". He didn't say, "God works some things out for your good". He didn't say, "God works a lot of things out for your good". He said, "God works all things out for your good". Also God doesn't work all things out for our good most of the time. He doesn't work most things out for our good some of the time. He says, "God works all things out together for our good all of the time".
Now, again, you may be sittin' there sayin', "Wait a minute. I got a problem. I love God. I love Jesus. I'm tryin' to serve God. I'm tryin' to obey Jesus, and I'm tellin' ya, I'm lookin' at my life right now. My life's a wreck. My life's a mess. Things are not workin' out. That's not happening today". Well, let me give you a spoiler alert here. You may not see how it's goin' to happen today. You may not even see how it's going to happen tomorrow. You may not even see how it's goin' to happen next week or next month, but the promise is unequivocal. God said, "It will work out. I've got the final say, and I am telling you it will work out for your good". How do you know it? Because God keeps his word. God keeps his promises, so we can know... we may not see it today, may not see it tomorrow. I know everything will ultimately work out for my good.
Now, as we flesh this out, you'll see how this is true when you do the next thing because not only can I believe that God's promise is true, right? Not only can I believe God's promise, number two, I should receive God's plan. I can believe God's promise to me, but I should receive God's plan for me because listen exactly now what the promise says: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". Now, the promise is not that everything works out. That's not the promise. Things don't work out. Nothing ever works out by itself. You may think it does. It doesn't. What the verse says is God works everything out.
Now, I'll tell you why that's such a comfort to me. There's an old saying that maybe you've heard before that goes like this: "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," and that's so true. I'll tell ya, I've learned this in my own ministry. There have been times we planned things in churches I pastored. We planned these big events, and, I mean, we meet hour after hour after hour after hour after hour, and we plan every detail. I mean, we try to dot every "I," and we cross every "T," and all it takes is for a sound system to go out, and everything goes "ka-blooey". All it takes for one breaker to hit and the lights go out, and I've had that happen, and everything goes wrong. So no matter how well we plan, things can go wrong. Nothing can go wrong with God's plan. At the end of the day, God's plan always works. Nothing can really, at the end of the day, go wrong with his ultimate plan.
Now, let me tell you why I know that's true. Because behind the plan of God is the providence of God. Let me tell you why that's so important. The word "providence" is a word that, it actually comes from two words: The word "pro," which means "before," and the word "video," which means "to see," so it literally means "to see before". In other words, things never work out coincidentally. Things never work out accidentally. Things work out providentially. God sees before, so, in other words, like, if you listen, you can hear in the word "providence," do you hear the word "provide" in that word? "Provide"? Here's what I want you to understand. The promise of God simply means that God sees every event that's ever going to happen to me before it happens. Let me tell you a word God's never used: "Oops. Really? I didn't see that".
The day before you took your first breath, God's already seen how the movie's gonna run. He's already seen the end of your film. He knows everything that's going to happen, and he's already provided for that event to fit into his plan for my life so will ultimately be for my good. From the time we're born to the time we die, there are all kinds of pieces that come into the jigsaw puzzle of our life. Some are pretty straight, some are pretty crooked. Some are pretty good, some are pretty bad. Some are pretty beautiful, and some are pretty ugly, but there's a top of the box, and it's called "God's plan," and at the end of your life, all those puzzles will fit together perfectly, so they come out for our good.
So understand, this is important, everything does work together for our good, but what I'm not saying is this: It does not mean that every bad thing that happens to you is good because it's not. Cancer is not good. School shootings are not good. Heart attacks are not good. Terrorist acts are not good. Drunk driving is not good. There's all kind of things that happen. They are not good. It doesn't mean that every cloud has a silver lining. I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying and what Paul is saying is this: When you get to the end of your road, God has a plan for you already worked out. He's already seen ahead of time. He's already ahead of you. He's way ahead of you, and he's gonna make sure everything will work out for your good.
I'm absolutely convinced of one thing: There are things that have happened in my life that were bad, and I'm gon' be honest with you, I still don't know why that happened. I don't. And I'm convinced of one thing. I'm convinced, when we get to heaven and we turn around and we look back at life through the eyes of God, here's what we'll say: "Wow, that's exactly the way I'd have done it. That's exactly what should've been done. I didn't see it at the time 'cause I didn't understand at the time, but you know what? It's amazing. God, you kept your word. You took even the things that were genuinely bad and used them in such a way that, in the end, they accomplished what was for our ultimate good".
Now, watch this: If I can believe God's promise to me and if I will receive God's plan for me, now watch what Paul says. This is the best part, I will achieve God's purpose in me. I will achieve God's purpose in me. Now, I want you to listen to this verse with the last two words in mind, okay? You ready? "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to..." Would you say those words with me? Say it again real loud. Whose purpose? Yeah, "his purpose," okay? Listen, there is a divine purpose to everything, and everything has a divine purpose.
Now, that raises a question. So what is God's ultimate purpose for me? What is God's final purpose for me? What does God want for James Merritt more than anything else? What does God want for Scott Hines more than anything else? You know, what does God want for Ben more than anything else? What does God want for Eric more than anything else? What does God want for all of you more than anything else on this world? What does God? All right, buckle your seat belt. "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son".
Now, some of you are not gonna like this, but stay with me. Contrary to what some preachers will preach on TV and on the radio and other things, God's greatest ultimate purpose for you in the final analysis is not to make you wealthy. It is not to make you healthy. It is not to make you happy. It is not to make you rich. It is not to make you famous. God's ultimate number one, so far above everything else, nothing else even really matters, God's ultimate purpose for you and for me is to make us just like Jesus. That's what he wants. "I want you to be just like Jesus".
Now, you may be saying, "Wait a minute. You're saying that's the greatest good that God could ever do"? Absolutely. Let me tell you why. If you're a believer, let's be honest. Let's just, we're all gon' get on them. I tell ya, we're really gonna get on... Some of young believers, they think this is pie in the sky. It's not because, look, God does not always seem like he's working things out for our good. We've all been there, right? "Wake up. Are you deaf? Can you not see what's going on in my life? I mean, I've done everything I know to do, man. I'm going under for the third time. I need a rope. Where are you"? Because, as you know, and I've witnessed this in my own life, even for the most committed of believers, life can be full of tragedy.
I don't care how much you love Jesus, I don't care how committed you are to God, loved ones die. People get cancer. Jobs are lost. Children get hurt. And, absolutely, yes, it happens to Christians as well as non-Christians. As a matter of fact, have you ever thought about this? If bad things only happen to non-Christians and not Christians, my job would be easy 'cause everybody would wanna be a Christian. "Wow, so let me get this straight: If I give my life to Jesus, you mean, it's all ice cream and cake and candy and roses and, now whatever, sign me up". But, no, it's just the opposite. Sometimes not only bad things happen to God's people, worse things happen to God's people, but consider this: "If there's no one greater than Jesus then there's nothing better than to become like Jesus". "If there's no one greater than Jesus then there's nothing better than to become like Jesus".
Now, here's... let me stop. This is important. Now I'm gonna really get to the punch line. God says, "I'm gonna work everything out together for good, for your good," but here's where you gotta really now listen up. He doesn't work off your definition of "good". He works off his definition of "good". See, some of you think, "Well, I'll tell you what my definition of 'good' is. It's a condo down in Florida, and it's a Mercedes-Benz in my garage, and it's $5 million in the bank, and it's a private jet," and it's this and it's that, or it's this and it's that, and God says, "You know what? That's not my definition of 'good.'"
I mean, let's just get real where we live. We're gon' get really real right now 'cause, let me tell you, I know where some of you are. I do. "Have you ever been bitter toward God because of something you think he caused to happen or allowed to happen"? "Have you ever been disappointed with God that he didn't give you something that you asked for or you thought he should have"? "Have you ever been angry with God because he allowed something to happen to you or a loved one that you knew he could've prevented"? That's the tough one for me. You knew he could've prevented it.
"Have you ever resented something about your physical appearance, the physical features that you were born with that God gave you"? I have a brother, a deaf brother. Some of you know him. He sits here in the front row every service. He wasn't born deaf. He was born just like me, just like my oldest brother, healthy. When he was just a little baby, got pneumonia. Fever shot up to 108 degrees. Should've died. God spared him, but because of that, he had residual brain damage, and he lost all of his hearing, so he's always behind, always been way behind the eight ball compared to me and his brother. God could've prevented that. My mother used to ask the question, "God, why did you let that happen"?
My dad used to ask the question, "God, you could've kept that happening for my son. Why didn't you do that"? We've been there. Here's another one: "Have you ever been upset with God because a situation didn't turn out the way you wanted it to"? "God, I asked for this, but I got that". Now, let me tell you something. I knew when I asked, I told the Lord this when I was workin' on this sermon. I said, "Man, when I throw this up on the screen, you can hear grass growin' outside. You can hear paint dry on the wall".
Some of you are really uncomfortable right now because that's exactly where you are. You walked in here, and I'm not tryin' to do any psychotherapy here, but you walked in here, and you know what? "Pastor, you're right. I am mad with God. I am upset with God. I am disappointed with God. I'm disillusioned with God. This God that we talk about all the time, he didn't come through for me". If any of those questions I just put up there are true about you, and for almost all of us, at least one them is... there's a truth you need to treasure. There is a fact you need to frame. There's a principle you need to ponder, and here's what I want you to hear. "No matter what happens in my life, God is always acting to accomplish his purpose and what will be in my best interest".
And let me tell ya something. If that's not true, we're all cooked. If that's not true, this story's not gon' turn out well. It doesn't matter what good things happen to us. At the end of the day, we're all up the creek without the paddle, so I'm sorry to pop your balloon, but the best thing that can ever happen to anyone is not to become Bill Gates-rich. The best thing that could ever happen to anyone is not to become Michael Jordan-famous. The best thing that'd ever happen to anyone is not to become Donald Trump-powerful. The best thing that'd ever happen to anyone is not to become Beyonce-talented. The best thing that can ever happen to anyone is to become just like Jesus. Like Jesus.
That's what God's called us for. That's what God's created us for. That's what God committed to make happen through everything that happens to us, good or bad, so, no, I'm not going to... I didn't come up here today and I'm not standing up here today and I'm not gonna tell you life will always work out the way you want to work out because I got news for you: My life didn't always work out the way I wanted it to work out because, if it had, I wouldn't be married to that woman right there. I'd have missed her, and I'd be doing something totally different than what I'm doing right now, and I could tell you a hundred ways in my life it just didn't work out the way I wanted it to work out, so I'm not gonna stand up and tell ya, "Hey, don't worry. It's okay. Life will always turn out the way you want it to work out".
No, here's what I am telling you. Your life will always turn out the way God wants it to turn out, and it will always be for your best, always, always without exception. No, there's nothing good about the bad things that happen to us, nothing. Sin is sin. Evil is evil. Tragedy is tragedy, and bad things are going to happen to God's people. You can pray, you can fast, you can read your Bible, you can tithe, you can go to church, you can dot the "I," you can cross the "T," keep all the good commandments and don't ever break any of the commandments, and you're still going to be up the creek without a paddle. You're still gonna have bad things happen to you. But here's the good news: The fight is fixed. We win. Life's hard, disappointing. There gon' be times in your life you think the heavens have turned to brass, God's totally turned his back on you, God doesn't give a flying rip about you.
See, I know what it's like to sit in my office a year ago with a man who doesn't even go to our church, and he watched his grandson for one year, from the time he was born till the time he died at one year of age. He watched his grandson die of a disease that the doctors couldn't stop. They went to every hospital, went overseas. They pulled every trick in the book they knew, and that boy died. He came to my office that day, and I'm gonna tell you, we both wept enough tears you could've put in a bucket 'cause I wasn't talkin' to him as a pastor. I was talkin' to him as a grandfather who adores his grandchildren.
It was one of those situations where you really don't even really know, Scott, what to say. We got through crying, and we both got our composure enough where we could talk. His name was Bob. I said, "Bob, I can't even imagine the hurt. I can't imagine the heartache. I cannot imagine the sorrow that you feel, but I'm telling you, if there's a God in heaven, and I believe there is, and that God keeps his word, and he always does, at the end of the day, he's gon' work everything out together for your good, and here's how I know that, Bob", and this is, I'll leave this with you, "the reason why I know that no matter how bad things are breaking in your life, they will ultimately break good, is because of the cross of Jesus Christ because God took the worst that's ever been done to anyone and turned it into the greatest good for everyone. God does work all things together for the good of those who love him".