But God

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.” (1 Samuel 23:14)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 13:29-30)

Did you notice the two-word phrase found in each of these passages? Those two words are rich with hope for times like these. In this week before we celebrate Easter, we are especially drawn to that last passage from the Book of Acts. The enemy thought he was finally victorious in his lifelong opposition against the King of the universe, “but God” raised him from the dead.

The virus that continues to spread across the globe has gripped our world with fear and uncertainty about the future. But God is still perfect in his love. He is still infinite in his wisdom. And God is, and forever will be, sovereign in his control.

No matter what you may face today, those circumstances do not get the final word. Our enemy is a great deceiver, but he does not get the final word. This coronavirus is invisible and deadly, but for those who know our resurrected Savior, it does not get the final word.

Because there is always a “but God” who works in all things “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) And he always gets the final word.

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

On The Other Hand

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18, 24)

Dr. Charles Stanley once used an illustration that has stuck with me through the years. I have cited it often in lessons I’ve taught and was reminded of it again last week when my morning devotion brought me to Romans chapters 7 and 8.

Hold your hands out in front of you, putting one in front of the other, focusing intently on the hand nearest you. Notice how the other hand subtly fades from view in your mind.

Now imagine that one hand represents your circumstances, while the other hand represents the promises of God. Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the midst of life’s inevitable difficulties, disappointments, pain, and struggles, we can easily allow life’s circumstances to cloud our view of God’s promises. When you find yourself in that situation, it is important to figuratively change the position of your hands, view your circumstances through the lens of God’s promises, and watch the gravity of those circumstances fade in comparison.

There may be no better Biblical example of that dynamic than that provided by Paul in chapters 7 and 8 of Romans.

In chapter 7, Paul’s focus turns to his personal struggles with sin, lamenting that “nothing good lives in me” – that while he desires to do good, he often finds himself doing otherwise. (verse 18-19) While all of us can relate to those internal battles with the flesh, other circumstances often capture our focus as well – such as the loss of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, or the loss of a job – to name just a few.

Any of those situations can lead us to cry out with Paul in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But notice how Paul’s focus abruptly turns to the promises of God, answering his own question in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In chapter 8, Paul then proceeds to enumerate five (one for each finger) of the most profound promises of God contained in all of Scripture:

  • “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1)
  • “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)
  • “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
  • “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.” (Romans 8:28)
  • “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

I encourage you to highlight these five verses in your Bible. And the next time life’s inevitable circumstances start to divert your focus to the wrong hand, allow the Spirit of God to redirect your gaze to these uplifting, unchanging, and unbreakable promises on the other hand.

You’ll be glad you did.

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.” – Corrie ten Boom

(All Scripture references taken from The New International Version, NIV)

Hope In The Face Of Adversity

“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.” (Romans 8:28)

After much speculation, Mark Richt was officially named today as the next head football coach of the Miami imageHurricanes. Even though he coached my team’s arch rival for the last 15 years, I have always had the utmost admiration and respect for Coach Richt, both as a football coach and as a life coach for his players, most of whom will not go on to play professional football, but will need other life skills, knowledge, and character to succeed in life after their playing days are over. Coach Richt understands that better than most coaches at the college level.

It amazes me that a coach of his caliber and abilities, the fifth winningest active coach in Division I football, whose team was 9-3 this season, averaged 9.6 wins/season over 15 years in arguably the toughest conference in college football, who won two SEC championships, led his team to 14 straight bowl appearances, was 9-5 in those bowls, was 13-2 against his team’s state rival, finished the season ranked in the top 10 seven times (most recently 9th last year), and came within five yards of a national title game just three years ago, was fired this past Sunday.

This action adds to my increasing disillusionment with what college football has become- big money and win championships at all costs, no matter the impact on those who are putting their health on the line to fill the stadium. Coach Richt never bought into that philosophy and I applaud him for it. Meeting with his team for the last time Thursday, he reportedly told them “Life is about people, not rings.” Amen, Coach Richt!

The greater lesson in all this is a spiritual one. Coach Richt’s response to his unwarranted dismissal last week has been both encouraging and inspiring. His calm professionalism, grace, and unshakeable faith in his Lord has been on display for the world to see. In interviews following his dismissal he made it clear that he answers to a higher authority than athletic directors when it comes to the direction of his life. I’m glad that direction will keep him coaching college football where he will continue to have a positive impact on young men’s lives and the Kingdom of God.

He is a living example of a truth I have emphasized for years as a teacher of God’s Word – that our responses to the inevitable adversities we encounter in life are our greatest opportunities to witness to others about the reason for the hope they see in us. (1 Peter 3:15)

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey says that “Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” Coach Richt clearly has that kind of faith and I firmly believe when he looks back on this week in five years, he will see that things worked out much better for him than for the Georgia Bulldogs. And as a lifelong Georgia Tech fan, that would please me very much!

By the way, Coach Richt is from Boca Raton, Florida and played his college football for the University of Miami. That’s right- he is returning to his Alma Mater. And unlike the Georgia fan base, Miami fans appear to be extremely united in their approval of his return. This story just gets better and better. Congratulations, Coach Richt and Go Hurricanes! You have a new fan in me. (Unless, of course, you’re playing the Yellow Jackets or the Tarheels!)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ..” (1 Peter 3:15)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)