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 NIV)

I hear this verse quoted on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is used to encourage those battling tough times.  It is often said to motivate people to pursue righteousness.  However, every time I hear it, I can’t help but to think about how selfish it sounds.

It comes across as a promise, a guarantee, a reward.  It’s like we are saying “If you want things to go your way, love God.  Then your life will be awesome.”

If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that following God is uncomfortable, difficult, and downright dangerous.  You are supposed to die to yourself, take up your cross, and sacrifice every desire of the flesh to do what is right in His eyes.

So how does that mesh with this frequently quoted scripture?  Am I saying that this is a false promise?  Absolutely not.

If you love God with all your mind, body, soul, and strength, and you respond to His call to fulfill your purpose, what would you consider to be “good?”  If you die to yourself, what kinds of things will you want to happen?  If you spend every moment trying to produce fruit, what will your results look like?

When most people quote Romans 8:28, they seem to imply that the “good” we will receive will be worldly rewards.  We use it to encourage folks looking for employment or money.  We share it bring comfort to those in pain.  But are those things really the “good” that this verse promises?  It may sound callus, but I don’t think it is.

If I am completely sold out for Christ and doing everything in my power for Him, I can’t imagine that I would be concerned with whether or not I get a promotion.  I won’t spend any time thinking about my feelings being hurt or my pride taking a hit. 

If I am living for God, my “good” will become more and more like His good.  I will want His will to be done and His love to prevail, no matter what impact it has on my life.  Selflessness means that my “good” is based on His plan and my plan no longer matters.

I hope I can someday get to that point.  What about you?  What is your “good”?

I knew this day would come, and I have dreaded it for quite some time.  My children have been imitating me for quite a while, but today they started imitating each other.  It was scary enough for me to have to watch my words and actions, but there is even less I can do to keep them from sharing bad habits with one another.  My home has become a scary place.

To some degree, though, we all end up imitating those around us. That also means that there are folks following our examples.  However, this is a responsibility that many of us take for granted.  We say we don’t care what people think.  Or, even worse, we try too hard to be something that we are not. 

So what is the right way to approach this responsibility?

And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I get a little uneasy when I read this verse.  Paul must have been pretty confident to say this to the church at Corinth.  I, on the other hand, feel like it is more pressure than I can handle.  But what is that pressure about?

I used to think that this verse overwhelmed me because I was worried about people following my lead.  I don’t want to cause people to stumble by showing them the wrong way to do things.  I don’t want to lead them away from Christ through my mistakes and limitations.  I would rather they imitate someone else…somebody that is better at this whole Christian gig than I am.

But, you know what?  That is a cop out.  That is an excuse. 

My real fear is that I am afraid of fully committing to imitating Christ.  I know the type of sacrifice, pain, suffering, and selflessness it will take to imitate Him.  And that scares me to death.

I am fine with people following my lead.  But if I claim this verse to be a staple of discipleship, my lifestyle must undergo a complete renovation.  If I am going to encourage people to follow me as I imitate Christ, I have to be more like Jesus.  I have to be less like me.  No excuses.  I have to.

One day in our Sunday school class, we challenged our students to name the Ten Commandments without looking them up.  It was a challenging task.  Even with the help of the adults, it took us a few minutes to recall all ten of them.  Luckily, thanks to what the kids are calling the internet, we can look them up whenever we want.  All we have to do is search for Exodus chapter 20.

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:2-17 NIV)

As you may remember, however, there came a time when Moses got mad and broke the tablets on which these commands were written.  So he went back up on the mountain, and God made him another copy.  And what was in that edition?  Check out this excerpt from chapter 34.

Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.  Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.  Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.   Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.  And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

“Do not make any idols.

“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

“The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock.  Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.

“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

"Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.  Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.

“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.

“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.:  Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 34:10-28 NIV)

So…what are the Ten Commandments again?

Obviously, the rest of the Old Testament supports the list found in chapter 20.  And that list definitely makes more sense if God is giving us a set of ten fundamental rules.  But this is interesting, right? 

Are there any other head-scratchers in the Bible that you have stumbled upon?

In a recent Sunday school class that I led, we took some time to talk about hope.  We discussed the hope that all Christians have in Jesus Christ, what that means for our lives on earth, and why it is so important that we share that hope with others.  These are mostly simple concepts that are very easy to forget when times are tough.

After an overview of how to define hope, I asked the students to recall a time when somebody had given them a message of hope during a troubling time.  As I waited for the students to come up with answers, I started thinking about how I would answer that question.  So I decided to share the following story with the class.

Almost two months before my son’s due date, my wife was rushed in an ambulance to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit in the middle of the night.  We were both panicking beyond belief.  We had no idea what would happen to this baby of ours.  We didn’t even know what was going on with my wife.  At times, it felt incredibly hopeless.  It was easily the most scared we have ever been. 

When we arrived at the hospital, our pastor and Sunday school teacher were there.  While my wife thought that meant she was dying, it was very comforting to have their support.  We had friends show up and wait all night with us to see if we would be meeting our baby that night.  They were fantastic.

As it turned out, things were not as urgent as they seemed.  But they were still not good.  We stayed in the hospital for three more weeks waiting to see what would go wrong next and praying for a miracle so we could go home.

During that time, we had dozens of visitors.  Pretty much everybody we knew from our church, and many folks we didn’t, stopped in to wish us well and pray for us.  Our friends showered us with gifts to make our hospital room feel more like home.  Our family kept us well fed and took great care of our dog.

To be perfectly honest with you, I can’t remember a single word that was said by anyone during that time.  There were no inspiring speeches or life changing conversations.  But just by showing up, we were given hope that we did not know existed.  When things looked grim, we felt like things would never be the same again.  But with all of the love we were shown through the presence of our friends and loved ones, we were reminded that God is greater than any dire situation.  We are loved by God and His people were sent to help us remember that.  And we knew that, no matter what, He would take care of us in a way far better than any of us could ever imagine.

In case you were wondering, it all worked out like this:
For my wife and I, we had experienced God and we recognized His love.  We just needed a little refresher when things got tough.  There are people out there, though, that have no idea what kind of hope He provides.  It is our job to show them that, through Him, all things are possible and all things will ultimately be made right according to His perfect plan. 

You don’t have to say all of the right things or even say anything at all.  Your love is made known through just being there.  Your willingness to show up gives hope to those that need it.  You have the ability to show others who Christ is just by being present. 

Seems easy enough, doesn't it?  Let's make it happen.