Finishing Well in the Face of Death

Finishers Conference | Chicago, Illinois

The following is a lightly edited transcript

I’m going to do something different than I had planned this morning because of two of you, at least. You’ll be perhaps gratified to know that our brief interchange after last night’s message caused some rumblings in my soul. And as I got up a little before six this morning and began to pray and seek the Lord about this, I really felt like another message saying almost the same thing, which is what I was going to do, would perhaps seal it. But I think if you haven’t got it by now you’re probably not going to get it. Though, I am going to take that message and do it in five minutes, so open your Bible to Hebrews.

Where we’re going to go after we take five to seven minutes on this message that I’m not going to give in full is to back up and ask, “Okay, show us practical steps about how to become like that and sustain this kind of intense delight in God that you’re talking about that glorifies him.” In other words, we’ll focus on more of a how-to message. It will be a message that would be like what I would do if I were to spend an hour in the room speaking to you this afternoon.

Finishing Well in the Face of Death

This message was going to be called, Finishing Well in the Face of Death, and it was going to have two parts to it. It was going to be partly from Hebrews 11 at the end, and partly from Hebrews 13. So maybe let’s just look briefly at Hebrews 11. I’ll give you the text, and show you where I was going to go with it. At the end of chapter, Hebrews 11:32–35 says:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms …

Notice this is all through faith or by faith — that is, by laying hold on the reward, by coming to God for all that he is for them, and by being content in him rather than circumstances, money, health, family, or job. That’s faith. And by it, as these verses continue, they:

…conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.

Now, smack dab in the middle of Hebrews 11:35, without any warning whatsoever, that litany of triumph shifts, and he doesn’t say that the rest of what he is writing is accomplished by lack of faith. This is the litany of what you accomplish by faith in a triumphant, sovereign, all-satisfying God. So let’s just keep reading the list. I’ll pick it up again at the first of Hebrews 11:35–38:

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

I’ll tell you, if you let your well-to-do friends — like we were just hearing — set your standards, you will not do this. If you say, “Well, when the world sees people hiding in caves with scarcely any clothes on, not able to barely feed themselves, they don’t think they’re worth very much,” but this text says that the world is not worthy of such people. The world is not worthy of them. Most missionaries don’t get to come here, stand in the limelight, tell a story about their lives, and get a little bit of the sentiment, “We admire you.” They just do their work for 30 or 40 years, die, go to heaven, and get it all. But this text says that the world isn’t worthy of those people.

Going Outside the Camp

Now, in Hebrews 13:12–14, I want to show you the structure and the challenge that maybe I’ll come back to and end with again this morning, but this was going to be the closing challenge.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify, set apart, purify, and give to his Father as a special possession the people through his own blood. Notice the great therefore at the beginning of Hebrews 13:13, followed by, “let us go to him outside the camp.”

Going outside the camp means going outside this room with all these beautiful lights and this nice air conditioning, having had a nice breakfast and feeling the security that everything will go right today, nothing will break, and we’ll get where we need to be. It says, “Let us go outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” I talked to one of you the first night I was here who said that after I gave that litany of verses from the Book of Hebrews and started into it, that it was starting to open lights on this book he’d never seen before. Many of you came to the Book of Hebrews thinking, “This book is the New Testament version of Leviticus. This is not a book where there’s anything really practical. This is Melchizedek’s book, right? This is utterly irrelevant to Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers. You can’t preach Hebrews because it is so wild and foreign. You’ve got this priest, these Tabernacles, these food laws, and all this stuff.”

Well, I hope you have been dis-abused of that because this is one book designed to make radical Christians, and here it’s coming to a climax. Let’s go. Isn’t that what it says in Hebrews 13:13? Therefore, let us go with him outside the camp of America, outside the Disneyland of the world, which is absolutely unrealistic in a world like ours. If you’ve only lived here, if you’ve only grown up in America, if you’ve had hot water, if you’ve had plumbing, if you’ve had 911, if you’ve had a doctor at your disposal, and if you’ve had a car, you are wildly rich.

So let us therefore go with him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. You’ve got this practical dimension of the stuff of the camp, and you might think, “Well, I love the camp. I’ve got this big collection of shells, or this nice computer, or my cars, my houses, and my clothes. I’ve got a camp, and it’s a good camp. God gave me the camp. I’m blessed by God.” So you have that dimension, and now you have this “bearing abuse” thing, and I don’t like to be disliked. I don’t like to be criticized or abused in any way. But the Bible says, “Let us go with him and bear some abuse for him.” Choose abuse. Choose abuse outside the camp — end of the message.

Finishing Like Paul

Now, what we’re trying to do in these minutes together is render some accounting as to why Landa Cope’s cry that such a big Christian generation is having so little impact is the case. Why is the exportation of this brand of evangelicalism to Malawi, or wherever, getting lots of people recruited, but the structures and the bribery and the corruption don’t seem to change? After 150 years in Cameroon, for example, you still have to ship westerners over there to teach the seminary. What’s wrong with this picture? I’m arguing that it’s because we are Reader’s Digest finishers and not Paul finishers. And I’m asking, how do you become Acts 20:22–24 finishers? Paul said:

I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

If we were like that, then there would be a greater impact. I’m tempted to say most, but I’ll just say that a lot of American Christians would have read that first paragraph in Reader’s Digest and actually heard it as attractive. We should weep. Read and weep.

People think, “A boat to cruise on, a little softball, as much as the joints can take, and collecting shells. Wow, wouldn’t that be great?” No, and you all know it wouldn’t be great. My answer has been that there will be no finishing without fatalities, there will be no finishing without a fight, and that the fight is a fight to be glorifying God and to be satisfying the soul, and that those two fights are one fight because God glorifies himself as God by satisfying our souls in God. If you want to be cut free from the camp and the love of the praise of men, you have to be satisfied in God so fully that these things are as refuse to you.

The last question is, as I was asked last night, “Can you just say some more practically about how you stay that kind of person? Or do you think it just happens once and then you’re automatically that kind of person.” I hope you’ve heard the word fight — fight, every day. For me, it’s a fight every day.

Faith in Future Grace

So let’s take the next 30 minutes or so and talk about this. Let’s stay in Hebrews first to get the pattern. I’m still in Hebrews 13, at the beginning. There is a pattern. I wrote a book on this, and the book is called The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. If you wonder where this is all coming from, it’s coming from this. It’s about how to live by faith, understood as being happy in God and all that he is for us — so happy that we don’t need the world anymore and we can die happily for Jesus. Paul says:

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

Now, if God would just make you believe that in the bottom of your heart, you’d be very radical people. Those kinds of people are dangerous people. I read somewhere that after Calvin’s death the Pope said, “The power of that heretic lay in his utter indifference to money.” Amen.

Now, look at Hebrews 13:5–6. I want to show you a structure of living by faith in future grace, or the structure of the how-to, and then we’ll just take as many examples as we can of how to do it so that I can flesh it out for you. The passage says:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have …

Now, be amazed at that commandment, because what that commandment is telling you to do is something you cannot do — be content. If you are discontent right now, that is, there is something in your heart that is just rising up with discontentment, can you right now push a button and change discontentment to contentment? You can’t do it.

The states of the heart that are our biggest problems are outside our immediate control. If they were in our immediate control, none of you would be here; you’d all be on the mission field, laying your lives down for Jesus with no struggle at all. But you can’t push buttons to take away anxiety. You can’t push buttons to take away lust. You can’t push buttons to take away anger at your parents. You can’t push buttons to take away greed for more money and longings for security. These things have to be wrought on you, and so the question came to me, “Can you tell us something to help us? This is scary. You’re asking us to perform things we cannot do. You’re calling us to live at a level we cannot live.” And that’s exactly what verse five is doing, and what I’ve been doing here. It says:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have …

God Has Spoken

Now here comes the Bible strategy for change. If you’re a greedy, selfish person, or just an average, run-of-the-mill chicken, this is the answer — for. Do you see that little word, for? That’s the biblical signal that some support and help is coming here. It says:

…for [God] has said …

Now, stop there. I agree entirely with this man I was talking to last night, and I’ll just make the principle plain. The fundamental strategy — you’re going to really be disappointed at this — is prayer and Bible reading. Sorry, you can’t get any deeper, but there’s more to say because we can flesh that out and maybe help you to be stunned by what the Bible really is, and what it has to offer. Here comes the Bible. It says, “For God has said…”

That’s the answer to covetousness and every other battle in the Christian life — God has said. So you must set that over against every sinful state of heart that keeps you off the mission field with anxieties, greed, lust, bitterness, and all these things that war against your soul. You must put over against them God has said. And that’s the Bible. So what did he say? The passage continues:

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Just stop right there. That’s a quote from the Old Testament. So even the New Testament uses the Bible to undergird these radical commands of not being money-lovers, but instead being content. The answer to this battle is a promise. You see, what I do in my writings, is to try to take these old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill, every-day, blockbuster, atom-bomb truths that nobody thinks are important, like read your Bible and trust the promises of God, and just put them in new language, like Faith in Future Grace. Don’t you think that’s a clever title? Faith in future grace. That just means trusting the promises of God, but who’s going to read that book?

That’s what you’re called to do, all of you. Find a way to say the old-fashioned, tried and true, deeply-changing, powerful truth. This is it. If you love money, and if you’re anxious about finances, listen to God in the Bible, namely, his promises. Future grace is the same thing as promises. One of them is, “I will never leave you.” That’s future tense, which means it is not in 50 years when you get to heaven, but starting right now and every second for the rest of your redeemed life, which is all of your life, God is saying, “I’ll never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”

And then you stop and meditate on that. I’m talking about meditation on the Bible and meditating on who said that promise. This is not a financial counselor following you around. What’s he going to do when the market drops another 300 points? Well, he can do dollar cost averaging, saying, “Let’s keep doing it every day” — that’s all he’ll be able to say.

God owns the stock market. He owns the universe. He’s sovereign and omnipotent, and he says, “I’ll never leave you, and I’ll never forsake you.” And then look at the conclusion that the writer draws here:

Therefore we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper …”

Read, Meditate, and Pray

You’ve got to learn this. This is the bottom line. I have nothing more profound than what I’m counseling you right now. You have to stop. You get up early in the morning, you open your Bible, and you’re feeling anxious — I do every morning. I feel anxious. I’m wired that way. And I open my Bible looking for promises. I want God to tell me I don’t have to be anxious, and have some reasons I don’t have to be anxious. They have to go into your head.

Then you pray things like, “Open my eyes that I might behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Or you pray, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36). These are Bible prayers that God will work in your heart while your eyes and your head are working with this book. You land on “the Lord is my helper,” and you stay there for about 10 minutes thinking about it. You ask, “Who’s the Lord? What kind of help does he give? Is he able to do that?” You put forward every problem.

Do you remember George Müller? When he was asked one afternoon in the midst of his stressful pastoral and orphanage-running life, “How are you able to be so peaceful this afternoon when all these children look to you, and so little is guaranteed?” He said, “I rolled 60 things onto the Lord this morning.” The word rolled is a literal translation of Psalm 55:22, which says:

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

What Can Man Do to Me?

He cares for you and he’s your helper, so you fight unbelief — that is, you fight for contentment. You fight for joy. You fight for satisfaction by looking at the promises of God and meditating on them and preaching them to yourself in prayer until almighty God brings the peace that passes understanding, and frees you to take risks for him when you get up off your knees. That’s the strategy. The rest of Hebrews 13:6 says:

The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?

And of course, the answer to that is, kill you. When you’re having your devotions and you read, “What can man do to me?” and everything in you cries out, “He can abuse me. He can torture me. You said so in Hebrews 11:35. What do you mean, ‘What can man do to me’?” And the Lord, if you do this long enough, will bring to your mind something like Romans 8:35–39, which says:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore, man cannot do anything ultimately harmful to me. And you learn how to interpret the Bible by meditating for your soul on the Bible. People who only treat the Bible intellectually and academically, never wrestling with it, don’t get much out of it. They never ask, “|What do you mean what can man do to me? He can kill me!” You get mad and you start wrestling, then you learn how to interpret the Bible. Get into it for your soul, and he will take you to places like Romans 8 and help your soul. Man can’t do anything to me that God does not permit him to do in his love for me. If we had time, we’d go to Hebrews 12, and look at all that persecution and how it’s the Father’s discipline to work righteousness into us, and so on.

Do Not Be Anxious

Now let’s go outside Hebrews. I think what might be helpful to do is to take a few sample conditions of the heart that seem to militate against this radical way of life that I’ve been talking about, and ask how meditating on promises helps you triumph over that evil state of unbelief. Let’s talk a little bit about anxiety. The Bible so relentlessly says, “Don’t be anxious.” In Matthew 6:31–33, Jesus says:

Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

There it is. Someone could say, “No, they won’t be added to you because some people are going to be tortured. And then Romans 8:35–39 says they’re going around naked and in famine. So it doesn’t get added to you.” So close your Bible because it’s not a true book, and then they go collect shells.

No — God won’t let you go. He won’t let you do that. He takes you, in response to that little soul struggle, to Philippians 4. You might want to turn there.

The Secret to Contentment

Do you have some financial worries, anxieties, or whatever? Philippians 4:19 says:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Really? What about nakedness? What about famine? What about being sawn in two? What about running around unclothed, hiding in caves — the people of whom the world was not worthy? Really? If we back up in the chapter to Philippians 4:11, it says:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

What a lesson. Paul, teach us. He knows how to be abased. He’s been in prison many days. He’s been in the sea a night and a day floating, wondering if he’d drown. He’s been stoned. He’s been beaten with rods. He has been whipped with 39 lashes, five times. Imagine what his back looked like. One instance of that happening would leave your back like jelly. It would heal after a few months, but then it happened a second time and healed slower. After a few months there was infection and fever with no antibiotics and no 911. Nobody understood. It finally healed, but then it happened the third time on the same back. It healed, and then it happened a fourth time on the same back — very slow healing. Then, when his back is purple it happens one more time. That’s the man who wrote this letter. In Philippians 4:12–13 he continues:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Now, compare the “all things” of Philippians 4:13 with the every need of Phillipians 4:19, and see if light does not come into your mind. He says, “My God will supply every need of yours,” after he had already said, “I can do all things, including being abased and hungry.” Therefore, if the “all things” that he can do in Philippians 4:13 includes going without food and being abased through much suffering and imprisonment and abuse, then the “every need” of Philippians 4:19 cannot be having all the food you might want and escaping every imprisonment that you would like. It means that in every crisis God will meet the need that you have to keep you trusting and glorifying him.

That’s what Matthew 6:33 means too. In the wider biblical context of Jesus’s message, when he said, “Seek the kingdom first and all these things” — food, clothing, drink — “will be added to you.” He meant, “There will be enough food, enough clothing, and enough drink to do what I want you to do and glorify me and be content in me,” which may mean none and starvation in Southern Sudan after your parents have been crucified upside down, and you’ve been sold into slavery. That’s what it might mean for a Christian 11 year old, but God will never leave him. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19), and the final delivery is to heaven. We don’t know which one of those other deliveries he will give.

Get More Bible

Now, this may sound like, “Oh, you are preaching the same message again.” But what I’m trying to illustrate is the use of the Word in my struggles to be this kind of person. You see, I’m a very skeptical person. When the writer of Hebrews says, “What can man do to you?” I say, “He can kill me. Explain.” I’m not easily satisfied when I read the Bible. When it says I can do all things, I say, “Okay, get out of jail? Okay, have all the food you need in Southern Sudan? Explain.” I’m trying to illustrate how you meditate on the Bible to strengthen your soul in the midst of incredible obstacles against finishing well. Because if you can’t do for yourself what I’m doing for you now, what are you going to do?

We had a veteran missionary come home after three terms, I think, so that’s sort of veteran. Some of you have been longer than that. But we gathered at our house with about 80 or 90 people and gave them the word, and somebody raised their hand and said, “We are new. We’re all getting ready for missions. What’s your counsel to us?” And he said three things: “Get Bible, get Bible, and get Bible.” Because they had been through a lot, and all the anthropological, sociological, missiological stuff, which yes, helps, but the bottom line is can you survive as a believer? Can you keep trusting him when your kid is unconscious with Malaria at two years old in the airplane between Concón and Abidjan? Can you stay believing as a mom? How do you do it? The answer is, you preach to yourself, and you say, “The Lord has said.” Then you preach truth to yourself over against the lies of your carnal nature, or Satan, or skeptical people. Let’s take a few more examples here.

Only One Life

Suppose you’re anxious about, oh, being useless. You would use a promise like Isaiah 55:11, which says:

[My word] shall not return to me empty …

Or maybe you would go to one like 1 Corinthians 15:58, which says:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Do you want your life to not be in vain? Then pour it out in the work of the Lord. Everything is vain. We had hanging on our kitchen wall as a boy when I was growing up and now it hangs on our kitchen wall, a little glass sign that says:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be passed.
     Only what’s done for Christ will last.

It won’t be in vain. Nobody may have ever heard of you, tucked away in some little village, but nothing is done in vain. All the hosts of heaven behold, and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Or you might fear or be anxious about weakness. Maybe it’s some weakness that you have, a personal weakness or a physical weakness. Then you go to a promise like 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

And you meditate on that. You take it like a lozenge into your mouth, and you roll it around while it dissolves and the juices of grace and hope and future promises go down and nurture your soul and the fear that grips it. And it changes your affection so that you delight in him.

Or you might be anxious about a big decision. Many of you might really be anxious right now about the implications of this time together. And you would go to Psalm 32:8, where God says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

God is not interested in playing games with you, or in toying with your future. He’s not like that. And you may say, “Well, why doesn’t he just placard it on the wall then?” Because if he placarded it on the wall, you would obey it because it’s on the wall, and not because your heart had been deeply moved by the greatness and beauty of it. I think that’s why God is as quiet as he is in his dealings with us. He means to lead us into his will by means of Romans 12:2, which says:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

He wants you to be transformed, not wall reading. Carnal people can read handwriting on walls, and out of fear, do it. They can reason, “If he can write on the wall, he can do bad things to me.” He wants people transformed by a glimpse of his glory. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). And the place you see the Lord is in the Bible. The function of the Bible is to reveal the glory of the Lord.

Beholding the glory, we are being transformed, and out of the transformation we prove what is the will of God. When we make our choice about the will of God from a transformed heart in love with the glory of God, then he’s pleased by our obedience. Everything else would be legalism and externality, so don’t begrudge his quietness. Don’t ask for lightning. Don’t ask that it be written in the sky.

To Gray Hairs I Will Carry You

You might be anxious about aging, and what it’s going to be like to grow old in a new chapter. You had already kind of figured out what it was going to be like to grow old in your present vocation, and you kind of thought the chapter would go this long. Then, after trifocals, I don’t know what happens, but you kind of got it figured out that this body is fading, and there will be stages. You’ve got your reservation at Augustana Home in the live-in, independent part. Then there’s a medium skill, and then there’s a real skill, and then there’s the cemetery. And so you got it plotted out.

But now you’ve got this new challenge to get old somewhere else, and there’s a text about that. There’s a text for every fear, and this is not called proof texting; this is called desperation. This is called life quest. This is called, I must know what you promise me or I can’t survive. And the text is Isaiah 46:4, which says:

Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

What more do you need? Even to your gray hairs, he will carry you. He has made you, and he will bear. He has created you, and he will carry you. Wow. What a promise.

Or it might be death. You might be afraid of death. And if you’re afraid of death, just pick and choose your page in the Bible. I like Romans 14:7–9, which says:

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Wow. Why should we fear? It’s on almost every page in the Bible — don’t fear death. Christ has triumphed. The whole purpose of his coming was to overcome. Oh I’ll go to Hebrews again. In Hebrews 2:14–15, it says:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

That’s freedom from the fear of death because Jesus came and clothed himself with mortality so that he could die. Let us go with him outside the gate.

Unplanned Obedience at an Unplanned Pace

What else? Would you rather talk about lust, bitterness, or impatience? The men are afraid to say lust. Let’s focus on impatience. This may sound like a small thing to you, but what I mean by impatience is being forced by God to go to an unplanned place of obedience at an unplanned pace. All of you have experienced this, even if it’s just sitting at a red light that never changes because it’s broken.

When you feel massively frustrated and impatient that the cancer ruined everything, or that the child died at 21, or that all the dreams and all the investment seem like they went down a rat hole, or maybe you had to downsize, and this was not in the plan and you feel impatient. This was not the plan, whether it’s sickness, death, vocation, or structural things that come into your life and you didn’t choose them; they just came and changed everything. In missions, it’s that the visas don’t show up, planes don’t take off, a medical thing doesn’t arrive, or the mail is opened and lost.

Nothing works. Everything breaks. There is frustration after frustration, from little teeny ones like Sheraton and Ramada, to big ones like death. The temptation to get angry and to be impatient and to say, “I don’t get it,” and want to get it fixed is huge.

Now, at that point, how can you be content? How to delight in God comes from words like the story of Joseph in Genesis 50:20. Remember, Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and he is thinking, “This was not in the plan. This wrecks my day and maybe my life.” And then they start pulling him up out of the pit and he says, “Oh good.” But then they sell him into Egypt, and he says, “That’s not what I planned. I don’t plan to go to Egypt.”

And he starts to rise in Potiphar’s house, thinking, “Okay, I see your hand, Lord. It’s good.” And then she lies about him and he goes to jail. So he’s in the pit, then there’s some recovery, and then he’s in slavery with some some recovery, and then he goes to jail with some recovery again. This is not a planned life. It keeps going down. And some of you are on the graph. I graphed this for my people before. I’ve written it in the newsletter. There’s a graph of the Christian life here. And some people in this room right now are in the pit stage, some are on the way to Egypt stage, some are in the house of Potiphar stage, and some are in the prison.

And then along comes a butler and a baker, and Joseph tells them their dreams. And one gets hanged and the other gets his job back. And Joseph says, “Remember me,” but he forgets him for two years. And maybe that’s where you are this morning.

Then the point of the story begins to emerge. Joseph becomes the vice president of Egypt through a dream of Egypt. His brothers come down and the tables are turned. They’re scared to death that after their father dies he’s going to take vengeance upon them. This is probably the most important sentence in however many chapters it is by which he tells the story from chapters 37 to 50 of Genesis. In Genesis 50:20, he says:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good …

Reaping Only Good

BB Warfield, the great Princeton scholar, was married to Annie Kincaid in 1876. They took a honeymoon to Switzerland, and she was struck by lightning and paralyzed for the next 39 years of their marriage. He never went more than two hours from his home. He turned down every denominational appointment, taught in Princeton Seminary within walking distance of his home, and cared for an invalid wife until she died 39 years later. That’s finding yourself in an unplanned place of obedience going at an unplanned pace of obedience. So when I heard that story, I got out a little devotional book by Warfield to see what he wrote about Romans 8:28, and this is the sentence that captured it:

God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.

He had a right to say that. So I suppose the last application of this simple structure of living by faith in future grace, or using the Bible to fight for faith, or stoking the engines of delight in, joy in, and satisfaction in God would be, can you believe God when he says all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)? And if you can believe that greatest of all promises, then you will be ready to finish well in the face of affliction, in the face of imprisonment, and in the face of death.

So I plead with you in my closing exhortation, leave the shells and join Paul on the Calvary road. Let us go with him, with Jesus, outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. I didn’t read Hebrews 13:14 did I? Let’s close with that verse. It begins with for, the biblical foundation, and it says:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Be satisfied with the city to come, where there will be no more sun and no more moon, for the glory of the Lord will be our light and the Lamb will be the lamp (Revelation 21:23).