July 8, 2023

Something Better is Coming

My name is Ray Dick. I'm a pastor here at Grace where I oversee the Care Team. I have the great privilege to kick off a new series this weekend called “In the Valley,” and the big idea is this: Sufferings and difficulties are a part of the Christian life. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when we will find ourselves in the valley, as a Christian. The question we want to ponder as we work through this series for the next few weeks is this: What are we to do, as believers, when we find ourselves in the valley?

On one occasion, J.C. Penney who founded the department store chain that bears his name, was asked, “What is the reason behind your success?”

Mr. Penney enthusiastically belted out, “Adversity and Jesus Christ.”

Now, I don't know a whole lot about Mr. Penney other than I absolutely hated the jeans my mom used to buy at the store when I was a kid. Is anybody feeling my pain? I wanted Levi's or Wranglers, which were popular in that day, and I got the J.C. Penney special. Anyway, I digress. This quote and dorky jeans are about all I know about Mr. Penney, but one thing for sure is his observation here is spot on. Unlike J.C. Penney, most of us don't instinctively attribute success to difficulties or adversity. But we should because there's a significant connection in the Bible where we see that God is ever at work behind the scenes in the life of the believer, using the valleys of life in order to bring about His good will and His purposes.

You see, God uses the valleys. It’s a reality of life that everyone in the room is going to have to navigate a lot of difficulty in life. Now, for the record, I can assure you I'm not thrilled about this. I absolutely hate adversity.

I loathe pain. I'm adverse towards adversity. Honestly, to prove it, my wife, Natasha, even has a special term that she only pulls out when I'm sick. “Man cold. Any guys get that at home? Man cold. Yeah. Us guys, we can't handle a whole lot of pain. So, though we'd love to avoid pain altogether, it's a part of living in a fallen, broken world. No one's going to get a pass on trials. Everybody's going to spend some time in the valley, some more than others.

So, with that in mind, and in view of the many difficulties we face right here within the Grace family, I'm going to hone in on a passage that gives great hope to Christians who are facing adversity. You see, when trouble shows up at our front door, and we are desperate for some encouragement, Romans 8:28, where we're heading, is our prescription for hope. We read these profound words:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28 is, perhaps, one of the greatest hope verses in all the Bible. And mind you, Paul was speaking to a bewildered church. He was writing to a bewildered church, in that day, that was enduring a lot. The persecution there in Rome had started ramping up as Paul wrote this letter. People had it tough. I can assure you that though our struggles may not be the same here in Lakewood Ranch in 2023, not much has changed in 2,000 years. There is a lot of pain in life. There's a lot of pain right here in our Grace family, and that's the reason why we're heading into Romans 8. There are a lot of people in this room, right next to you, who are going through something. They need the hope that we find in Romans 8.

Quick exercise. Look around the room. Scan the room. No matter what direction you've turned, there are people right next to you who are going through something. You might be thinking, “Well, how do you know, Ray? What are you, a mind reader?”

No. I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. That was a joke. It didn’t go over well last service. I should have dumped it. Anyway, how do I know? Well, as a Care Pastor, my primary role is coming alongside members of this church who are going through a hard time. So, I get a firsthand glimpse of some of the suffering in this church. I can assure you it is exponentially greater than you would ever think of or imagine. Most of us come in here with our church smiles on, but our life has fallen apart behind the scenes. A lot of pain right here within our Grace Family.

I’ll give you an idea of the scope or magnitude of the pain. Just in the first half of 2023, January through June, a number of us here within the Grace Family have had loved ones who have died, spouses have passed away, parents, loved ones and friends. Even a couple children. Most recently, even young man, a 23-year-old, in Blake Hospital, one of the sons of one our members, clinging for life after a significant fall from five stories on Thursday. If that weren't enough, the pain doesn't end there. A number of you are dealing with physical illnesses and pain that is just robbing your joy. Some of you are literally fighting for your life with a terminal illness. Many are struggling not with physical pain, but emotional pain, self-doubt, esteem issues, have been abused, or have trauma and anxieties over the valleys you've walked through. The list goes on and on and on. I'm not trying to depress you here, this morning, but the bottom line is there is a positive ending to this message. But the list goes on and on. Financial difficulties, relational struggles, divorce, broken families. A lot of pain within the Grace Family.

In the sobriety of the moment, after reading through that list of crumby situations, I want to ask you something in true transparency. Do you ever find it difficult to trust God when things go bad? No need to show your hands, but is anyone here struggling to trust God? I certainly have struggled to trust God through the valleys in my life. You see, I see a lot of pain here in the Grace Family. It can be daunting at times. Also, like many of you, in my life, it has not always gone well for me and those that I love. For nearly two decades, I looked on as my first wife painfully and slowly died. There's no pretty way of saying it. It was tough. It was incredibly difficult, at times. In my deepest valleys, in the deepest struggles I had, I really, really struggled to trust God. You see, I've lost a lot of family members that way through the years, and many others that I've loved in the churches I've pastored in the same way. Suffer and then died. So, you’d better believe it, it can be very difficult to trust God when in the valleys of life. If that's you today, my prayer, our prayer, is that God's going to meet you here in Romans 8.

So, here's where we're heading in my encouragement to you. If you are in pain and struggling to trust God, Romans 8 assures us that, in all things, something better is coming. That's a hope we can cling to in every circumstance, in every area of life. Our God is ultimately at work behind the scenes of our lives. God wants to reassure us today, in Romans 8, that because He is always at work, we can trust in Him. When in the throes of a crummy situation, the one thing that is key for you and I is to maintain hope. So, Romans 8:28 is a prescription for hope, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. So, here's a roadmap for our time together. We're going to unpack Romans 8:28 and the surrounding verses. We're going to hit Romans 8:27-29, then jump up to Romans 8:18. Then we'll conclude with some very practical takeaways. While unpacking, we're going to want to ponder a question that relates to the struggle we all have at times with trusting God, and it is this: Is it indeed possible to trust God in my adversity? That's the question we want to ponder. With that question in mind, let's begin to unpack Romans 8:28.

The first thing I want to draw your attention to is this: We're told here, “And we know that for those who trust God, all things work together.”

We know that we know that we know all things work together. The subject of this verse is “all things;” God working all things. May I encourage you, as desperate as your situation is today, there is nothing in your life outside of “all things.” This is all inclusive. It's both good things and bad things, both successes and failures. It's all inclusive. Everything's included, and God is the one who is driving all things. God is the one behind the causing of all things to work together. Now, we're being told here that God is at work. Currently, right now, today — I won't spend much time here, but the verb in this sentence is present tense, active voice.

What that means is God is always at work. God is always behind the wheel. He never sleeps. He never slumbers. So, when we lay our heads down on our bed at night to get some much-needed Z’s, we can rest assured in knowing our God is working behind the scenes. Now, let that give you some peace to know, this morning, that He’s at work at all times.

The next thing I want to highlight in Romans 8:28 is this: The world is evil. It takes about 10 minutes of the evening news to realize that. But there is hope because our God is good, and our God is working all things together for good. Now, I want to make something very clear before we go any further into this. This verse is not saying that all of our circumstances are good. Sin, it's not good. Evil, it's not good. The pain you are experiencing in your body, the death of a loved one, a broken marriage, all of those things are not good. In fact, they're terrible. It was never intended to be this way. We live in a broken world. So, we ask what is good then? Rather, who is good? God is good. I want to encourage you that there's an amazingly practical conclusion we can draw from Romans 8:28, and it is this: God promises to bring good from every bad thing that has ever happened to you and I. To those in pain, for those who are struggling today, from my heart to yours, something better is coming on the other side of your valley. It may not be today, tomorrow, the next day, next year, or next month. It may not be until we get to glory, but something better is coming. Please stay tuned as we work through this passage because what we see here is absolutely beautiful. God is providentially bringing purpose to our pain by bringing good from the worst of life's circumstances.

This gets even better. Note how Romans 8:28 begins with the word “and.” That word “and” tells us that Romans 8:28 is continuation of the prior thought which came before Romans 8:28, which is, namely, Romans 8:26-27 where we get this wonderful little gem of a passage.

It tells us, “Likewise the spirit helps us in our weakness.”

How does he help us, according to this passage? We’re told in there that He helps us because we don't know what to pray when we find ourselves in a bad situation. We’re told that the Spirit, how does He help us? He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

“Intercede” is just a fancy way of saying that He prays for us according to the will of God. Think about what we just read here. This is mind-blowing. The Holy Spirit of God is never ceasing to pray for you and me. What’s He praying? God's will. Think about this. Don't you just love how God has got this totally covered? Just being honest, we don't know what to pray. I look back on my life, and I've had so many prayers that I'm so thankful God never answered them the way that I had prayed them. It’s just true. The Spirit knows what's best because He’s praying God's will. It’s a great thing because God's will is infinitely better than anything you and I can come up with. You see? The Spirit is praying, Romans 8:27, and then God is making it happen, Romans 8:28. He's bringing good from all of it. The reason God can does make it happen is threefold. The first of which is this: Our God is an all-loving God, and He wants what is best for you and me.

As a parent, as parents in the room here, we want what's best for our child. No good parent would want anything that wasn't the best for their child. Where God separates Himself from us is in this: Not only does God want what is best for us, and God is all loving, but God knows what is best for us because God is all wise. He knows what is best in every circumstance and in every situation of our lives. Here’s the kicker that just gets me excited is this: Not only does God want what's best for us and know what's best for us, but He can make it happen because He is all powerful.

You see, God wants and knows what's best for us, and in His timing He will make it happen. You see, timing is very important here because herein lies the rub. God's timing is not always soon enough for you and me. You see, God often works in weeks and months and years and lifetimes, but we want Him to work right now, today.

“Lord, Your will be done, but how about in the next 10 seconds after I'm done with this prayer?”

Right? And when we don't see the good right now, it's super easy to get discouraged because we don't know what God's doing behind the scenes, especially when we find ourselves in a deep, deep valley. That’s why we're encouraged to lean on our faith and to trust in an all loving, all wise, all-powerful God who is madly in love with us, and He, ultimately, has something far better coming on the other side of my valley. So, Romans 8 is super encouraging to those who are going through a valley.

With the time we have left, I want to consider some practical takeaways. There are three that we're going to pull out of these verses, the first of which is this: Something better is coming. A better us, more like Jesus. I'll tell you one thing, the world needs a better Ray, and we should all give a big round applause on that one because the bottom line is if we're struggling and wondering why God allows our pain, and the pain of those that we love, we need to be encouraged that there is a purpose to our pain. Nothing’s wasted. Not a tear that’s shed is ever wasted in God's economy. God uses our pain to perfect us, making us more like Jesus.

Let's work through this. Oftentimes, God does not deliver us from a bad situation, rather, He brings us through the valley, and He uses the valley in order to teach us, grow us, and increase our faith to make us more like Jesus. That's some of the good that comes from our crummy situation. Check out what Paul says here as we continue in Romans 8:29.

He says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,”

What we're being told here is that God uses the valleys of life to shape our character. How so? By making us more like Jesus. Honestly, the reason I'm here as a pastor at Grace is because of the work God did in me through many years of struggle and difficulties in the valleys. He did that mercifully and graciously in order to prepare me for such a time as this. You see, in those 18 years that I was married to my first wife, we counted hospital stays in weeks and months. Honestly, there were some years where she was in a hospital more than she wasn't. And it wasn't just for minor things. I mean, major, radical surgeries. Dozens over the years. In and out of ICUs. There were multiple times I kissed her goodbye as she went into surgery, thinking I would never see her again. God would raise her out of her deathbed. Anyway, through all of that, I stand here before my Grace Family and I testify to you that God has, over and over, very mercifully and graciously, redeemed at all. You see, I'm not the same Ray I used to be. The Ray before I got saved, before the valleys, was a train wreck. He was a mess. I was like voted the most likely to not succeed in my high school. Any good or redeeming thing that you see in me is because of Christ's work that He did in me in the valleys of life that He brought me through.

You see, how this works is this: God shows up in miraculous ways in trials. You see, serving in the care ministry can be daunting, at times. Folks will say, “Wow, on an everyday basis you're hearing the struggles in life. That's a hard weight to carry.”

But there’s an incredible blessing to serving in a care ministry. I get to see God move in ways He would not otherwise, apart from bad situations. That’s the way God works. He works miracles in the valleys. He does his deepest work in the valleys. I don't think I've learned a thing, ever, through pleasure up on the mountaintop. It's always been through pain and through valleys. Billy Graham used to say it this way. He said, “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.”

Can good come from my crummy situation. You’d better believe it. God uses it to grow us, to make us more like Jesus.

That leads us to our second takeaway, which is this: Something better is coming. A better purpose being the hands and feet of Jesus. God not only wants us to look more like Jesus, but He wants us to be more like Jesus. Be the Church. Be His hands and feet, accomplishing His purposes and will here on earth. Be encouraged. God often uses our deepest pain to bring about our greatest purpose in life. What's our greatest purpose in life? To love others. You see, for those who have spent time in the valleys, God wants to use us in order to love on and care for others who are in the valley. Just as Jesus would have if He were physically sitting here right next to them. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 1. He says, “God comforts us in all of our difficulties so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

I think God's in the comfort business. What do you think? Amen? Yeah. That is worth it. God is in the comfort business. We see here a special purpose in our pain. Comfort others that are going through something similar to what we've already been through. Our experiences in the valleys uniquely qualify us to walk alongside others in pain. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, I'm just way too broken for God to use me. I've been through too much. I can’t possibly do that, Ray. I'm just totally unqualified.”

I'm like, “That’s a good thing.”

The less qualified you are, the more usable you become in the valley to others. Do you see? Jesus is like, “I pick you. I want the broken one.”

None of us like to be picked last in gym class, but Jesus always picks that person first. He always picks broken people. We just saw in the sermon series “Failure Figures” that God uses broken, fallen people. He uses the underdogs. Do you know why that is? Because when something spectacular happens in the valley, He gets all the glory because He uses broken earth and pots in order to accomplish His will and His purposes. We're told in 1 Corinthians 1 that God uses the weak and the foolish. I'm way overqualified. Honestly, it’s the first time in my life I've been overqualified for anything God, as we see in the Old Testament, spoke through a donkey, didn't He? I'm living proof that He still speaks through donkeys today, right? Hee-haw.

The fact that God can use a mess like me gives me great joy and great pleasure. I celebrate it, and so should you, that God brings purpose to our pain in allowing us to join Him in loving on and caring on others. There’s something so very, very special in watching God use our pain to help others. You see, our contributions in the church often issue from lessons learned in the valleys of life, where we get insight and perspective only acquired through time in the trenches. I often leave a ministry situation, whether I'm praying with somebody, counseling, or at a hospital visiting someone — whatever it is, I'm sitting there, reflecting afterwards, sitting in my car, thinking, “Ray, you could not have done what you just did, you could not have said what you just said to those folks in that valley, had you not been through that valley already.”

God redeems our pain. He uses it in a ministry of love and compassion towards others in the valley. You see, God doesn't waste a single tear. He doesn't waste anything. He wants to use it all for a greater good to love others. Jesus said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples,” — if you read your Bible for four hours a day? He didn't say that, did He? He said, “If you love one another.”

A true mark of being a Christian is love. If we want to gauge how well we're doing as Christ-followers, we should ask, and we should ask often, how well we are loving our neighbors? You see, our love for one another will define us in our mission here at Grace, to be intentional neighbors reflecting Christ.

Our third and final takeaway: Something better is coming. A better future being with Jesus. If you're hurting and wondering where God is, just remember you're living, I'm living, in the “not there yet.” Our ultimate hope is this: God has promised us a future with him where there'll be no more pain. Pastor Chip often says it. Look at the end of the book. We win. Amen? Revelation 21 speaks of a time in our future where God will wipe away every tear. There'll be no more pain, church. There’ll be no more suffering. It's going to blow our collective minds what God has in store for us.

That’s why Paul says with the utmost confidence, in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Amen. Praise God. The Apostle Paul who wrote this, you know his story and what he's been through. He wrote those words. Our present suffering, no matter how bad that is, will not compare to what God has in store for us. No matter how bad you've had it in this life — and I know some of y'all have had it so, so bad — our future is Revelation 21. No matter what our situation, the best is yet to come. Yet the fact remains that we live in a broken world. We're living in the “not there yet,” so I want to remind you to hang on because Christ sealed our future when He hung up on that cross of Calvary declared those three most beautiful words: It is finished.

Christ won. Yes. Yes. Christ won, and we will ultimately overcome. So, we must never lose sight of this reality: As His children, we do not fight for victory, but we fight from victory. Church, our king, Jesus, is a conquering and victorious king, and every giant you will face in this life has already been defeated. It's just a matter of time. We fight from victory.

In the ensuing weeks and months after my first wife died, people would often come up with good intentions and say, “Aren’t you glad she's out of pain?”

Don't say that to folks, please. I would say, “Of course I am,” but inside I would think, “But I'm just dying on the vine.”

What made matters more difficult is that I was pastoring a growing and thriving church. We planted it five or six years earlier. Much like Grace, it was a wonderful group of folks. Hundreds of people were grieving alongside me, and it became very overwhelming. So, I took a short sabbatical about a month after my wife died, and as I grieved, I felt God reassure me, over and over and over again, as I wet my pillow with tears every night, that He would bring good from all my pain. Grace Family, I'm here to testify before you today that God has done just that and even more. In fact, I brought a picture for you. Not only did God give me a beautiful new wife, Natasha, but He gave me a whole new family, complete with kids and grandkids, and even a couple dogs that I don't even really like. Part of the valley. Just kidding. They're okay. It was all in the past 10 years. You see, in the whirlwind of my grief, I had no idea of the beauty God was about to unleash from the broken ashes of my life. I stand before you grateful. I feel like a 21st century Job. You're probably thinking, some of you, “Well, having kids at your age, you probably feel like Abraham, too.”

Life still has many challenges. I’ve got a health thing I've been going through. Things like that. But in spite of that, the valleys of life, I have an overwhelming gratitude and appreciation for every moment I get to spend with these.

I want to close by reading something by Joni Eareckson Todd. She spent over 50 years in a wheelchair after a diving accident as a teenager. She has very limited use of her body. A little bit of her arms, but not even her hands. She wrote these very profound words. She said, “I hope that I can have my wheelchair in heaven. I would walk up to my Savior and say, ‘Lord Jesus, do You see that wheelchair there? Before You send it to hell, I want to tell You something You already know.’”

I love that part.

She said, “The weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on You. The harder I leaned on You, the stronger I discovered You to be.”

With tears rolling down her face, she said, “I'm so grateful.”

Powerful. Only words that could be spoken from somebody who spent 50 years in a valley. What are we to do when we find ourselves in the valley? Lean into Jesus, my friend. You can trust in Him. As you do, you will discover, like Joni, like so many others, that He will give you the strength to endure as He carries you through the trial. As you continue to fight the good fight of faith in a broken and fallen world, know without a shadow of a doubt that you fight from victory. Something better is coming. Jesus overcame, and so will you. Amen?

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