Everything That Has Happened

January 23, 2022

Everything That Has Happened

Passage: "I want you to know... everything that has happened ... has helped to spread the Good News." Philippians 1:12
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I am curious about everything that has happened, aren't you? We want movies, read books, subscribe to magazines, and talk to our friends to find out all that has happened. Victory and defeat, illness and healing, marriage and divorce, war and peace, friends and enemies, win and lose, success and failure.

This week on my broadcast I am hosting two people, a father and daughter. He is a Baptist minister with a PhD who fell into alcohol addiction, and she is a lawyer who strayed from her Baptist-Christian ways, started therapy, discovered the Rosary, and converted to Catholicism. Where are they now and what are they doing and how are these two narratives intertwined and can they say, "Everything that has happened has helped spread the Good News"?

What about your life?

What is your narrative? what has happened to you and has any of it helped spread the Good News? What about our church: can we say that all that has happened--decline, conflict, pandemic, weather--has helped to spread the Good News? I ask the same question about the Christian Community in the United States: what has happened and has any of it helped to spread Good News?

These are the three circles of curiosity that shape my reading of Philippians. Yes, I know that what really matters in the short letter is love for neighbor, joy in difficulty, and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But Paul makes this claim for himself and his life: everything that has happened has helped to spread the gospel.

Think of the things Paul mentions. He is in jail. How he got there is included in that phrase, "everything that has happened." He abandoned his persecution of Jesus followers and became one of them. That's part of "everything that has happened." In this letter he names things that preceded his change of direction: "I was circumcised," he writes in chapter 3. "I was a pure-blood Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. I joined the Pharisees and studied the Bible and obeyed the Bible. I even obeyed the Law, the Torah, without fail, without fault. Then I persecuted the followers of Jesus. All of this pre-Jesus life, all of these things I now repudiate as worthless has happened to help spread the gospel."

What happened in your life before you got serious about Jesus?

Did you learn a skill like playing the guitar? Did you travel to places like Southeast Asia? Did you major in finance or engineering or psychology? Did you fall into addiction or bad company? Did you marry the wrong person or take the wrong job? Did you mismanage a business or mess up a life? What can you list when you describe "everything that has happened"?

Can you say: Some of the things I did before I met Jesus God has used in surprising ways. Some of my failures help me to understand people and testify to people and love people. Some of my mistakes have given me empathy with people, have opened up doors of opportunity with certain people, have pushed me in better, healthier, holier directions.

You never know how something that happens to you will be used of God. The current movie "American Underdog" is the story about everything that happened to Curt Warner. Little did he know that his early love for football would lead him to the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, and the movie screen. All of that has made his testimony for Christ one of influence and impact.

Several years ago, I read the book Unbroken. It is the narrative of everything that happened to Louie Zamperini during world war II and afterwards. His plane crashed in the Pacific. He spent 47 days in a rubber raft with two other survivors. He had no way of knowing, in those pre-Christian days, how this episode would define his life and offer him a compelling platform for testifying to Christ.

Jimmy Carter lost his bid for a second term as President of the United States. What a bitter defeat for anybody. Later, George H W Bush and Donald Trump would suffer the same experience. Once upon a time, I was voted out as interim pastor, and I recall how disappointing that was!! But for President Carter, that defeat handled with dignity and grace became part of his story, and his story, from that day, has helped to spread the Good News. I sat in his Sunday School class and listened as he talked about Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.

How has everything in your life helped the cause of Jesus Christ?

Has your history, the good, the bad, and the ugly, made you kinder and more compassionate? Has it made you stronger and more courageous? Has it given you a word of witness that is more clear and more centered of Jesus our Lord? Has everything that has happened to you formed you as a disciple of Jesus, made you a person shaped by mercy, justice, and humility, a person loving God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself? Has everything that has happened to you made you more surely a person of prayer, a person of service, a person of faith? Has it made you a person who is singing with joy and living with hope/

You never know when learning a language or perfecting a skill or following a dream will position you as a leader among people, as a teacher of people, as a neighbor to people around you. Every episode of your life can prepare you to be the person God wants you to be!

Sometimes we wonder how the bad things fit into this equation.

Let's turn to everything that happened to Paul the Apostle. In writing to the church at Corinth, he summarizes much that had happened. Bad stuff. Tough Stuff. Hard stuff. He never says God sent this stuff. He never says God predestined him to suffer. Here is the way he writes in what we call the second letter to the Corinthians: "Five times I have receive 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned...."  And he doesn't mean smoking weed!

"Three times I was shipwrecked," and we have an extensive account of one of those shipwrecks. "I have been in danger from robbers, from rivers, from Jews and from Gentiles, in the city and in the desert and on the sea, I have been through hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and in thirst, often without food, but in cold weather where I was exposed to real danger."

Then he writes this: "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ knows I am not lying!!"

Sometimes people lie about what happened. Just last week, a young student had to give up a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford because she had claimed things in her life narrative that never happened. I once supervised a denominational minister assigned to the campus where I served. He was in charge of the students of his denomination. He was and is very impressive and now has a national ministry and a national audience. But I got curious and suspicious of everything that he claimed happened to him. I started calling names and places on his resume. I was right. He had fabricated some of it and embellished some of it. I confronted him and he confessed.

Paul writes to the Corinthians and to us: "God knows I am not lying."

Some people suffer through hard times. Sometimes they are embarrassed and shamed. Sometimes they keep it quiet. But other times, they share it and ask God to use the hard times and weak times and wrong times for the good news of Jesus.

Paul wrote to the Romans and said, "All things work together for good" and we might expand that, "All things work together for the gospel."

If you are weak, call upon the strength of the Spirit and live in hope.

If you are in trouble, pray about it, seek the help of others, and live in hope.

If you are failed in business or love or health, accept things as they are, and ask God to show you what to change and how to follow Jesus.

If you are being pushed out of your family, or your circle of friends, or your favorite club, shake the dust off your feet and find your way to the promised land.

Read these words of the gospel and make them your own: Everything that has happened and everything that is happening and everything that will happen can be used by God in your life, in our lives to draw you to Christ, to draw us to sing for joy and live in hope.

Do not complain. Do not take revenge. Do not give up. Do not lose heart. Do not blame others. Do not curse God.

Like Paul, I have been through troubles. Jesus said, In this life you will have many troubles.

My family has been through troubles. We have handled just about everything you can imagine. I can make a list like Paul: addiction, divorce, mental illness, depression, accident, poverty. incarceration, adultery, termination, divorce, sickness unto death, alienation, homelessness, loneliness. Some we brought on ourselves. Some were the results of other people. Some relate to genetics. Some were random, from nowhere, from somewhere.

I'm still singing for joy and living with hope, and you can as well. I am still believing the good news and living the good news and preaching the good news. I am believing God that everything that happens can be used by God to expand the kingdom, to spread love, joy, and peace, to establish justice and overturn wickedness, to display the good news: that God created all things, that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that we can be filled with the holy spirit.

I am trusting God that everything that has happened--the events and the memories, the victories and the failures, the good times and the bad times can be rolled up in the goodness and grace of God. God can wrap it up in love, decorate it with the ribbons of mercy and joy, and present it to the world as a testimony to this: God has begun a good work in us, among us, and through us, and God will complete it, in spite of what happens, so when Jesus Christ appears, God will be glad. God's work will be done. And we will sing for joy and live in hope.



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