Have you ever found solace in the phrase "everything happens for a reason" during challenging times? Challenging this comforting belief, we probe into its potential to misinterpret divine intentions. Does everything really happen for a reason? Is it part of a divine plan, or is it simply the result of our free will? To answer these questions, we dive into the biblical story of Joseph. Despite being sold into slavery, falsely accused, and wrongfully imprisoned, Joseph’s life serves as a testament to how God can turn despair into grace, using even the worst of situations for good.
Finally, we draw hope from God's love, as reflected in the promise found in Romans 8:28. In our darkest hours, it's vital to remember that God does not author suffering, but can use it for good. This episode encourages us to find hope in the divine, reassuring us of God's unwavering presence in our lives. So, join us in this enlightening episode as we reassess a popular phrase and find hope in our faith. Let's navigate these reflections together, reassured by God's ever-pervasive love.
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Well, welcome to Madison Church. My name is Stephen Pfeeth, I'm a lead pastor here and we're so glad that you're joining us online and I want to extend an invitation to you. If you are watching or listening online and you don't normally join us in person, the invitation is for you to join us in person on one of these upcoming Sundays. We'd love to connect with you then. Did anyone else go to middle school dances? Yeah, so we had some people go to middle school dances. Talk about making the most awkward period of our top of our lives just more uncomfortable, and then then it could be. It's. It was already awkward, it's uncomfortable, and then, on top of it, then you're going to make us all go out there and dance with each other. The hormones are raging, all on full display. I can remember I asked Liz Moore to the dance, and in seventh grade and the reason I asked Liz was because before sixth grade let out, her best friend told me that she had a crush on me and so it seemed like a low risk ask at the time. Now, of course, in hindsight, I look back at that I think that was actually quite courageous, because I presume then that all summer she kept having a crush on me. So maybe just a little bit, not being super self aware, but she did say yes. That's the great thing is that Liz said yes. And so on the day of the dance I dressed up, which where I grew up, that meant a nice pair of jeans and a button down shirt. It was my best pair of jeans. It wasn't necessarily a nice pair of jeans, but that's what I wore. And my dad drove me and we picked Liz up and then we went to the subway. We had a subway. My dad dropped me off and I can remember it was bad enough having my dad have to drive us because I wasn't old enough to drive. But I can remember sitting there in the booth and I'm facing Liz and Liz is looking at me and over Liz's head I can see through the window my dad sitting in the car watching us, and not like in a creepy way. I made him stay out. I didn't want him to come in, so he was just sitting in the car waiting for us to order our sandwiches, eat our sandwiches, and so you know it wasn't great, but he was trying, he was doing great, he also paid for it. So while I didn't want him to come in. He did also pay for it, really grateful for that. And then, after subway, we went to the middle school. We got dropped off and we did what you would expect us to do. We each went our separate ways. Yes, we were on a date with each other, but we each went our separate ways. And that was the way it went all night. All night she stayed with her friends, all night I stayed with my friends. And that was until the DJ announced this was going to be the last slow song. That's something that DJs will do. They'll say, hey, we're wrapping up the night. We've got a few more songs after this, but this is the last slow one. And so I mustered up the courage to ask Liz to dance with me. I said, hey, you want to go and dance? And she said yes. And it was as awkward again, going back to the steam of it being awkward, she awkwardly put her arms around my shoulders. I awkwardly put my arms around her waist I'm pretty sure they're probably like three feet between us because we're trying not to get too close here but for boy in the seventh grade, I mean having my hands around her back, that seemed like I was really putting the moves on her there and we slowly swayed to the one hit wonder band S club seven. The song was I never had a dream come true until the day that I met you and my 13 year old heart was just racing. I thought this is it, I am in love. And then, a week later, so we go home, we go home, we go home our separate ways. My dad picks me up, her mom picks her up and a week later Liz breaks up with me. It's just over. It was always the best 11 day relationship I've ever had, right, but she broke up with me and I was heartbroken and I didn't know why. And I think then a friend who was trying to console me and trying to help be helpful, he says to me well, you know, steven, everything happens for a reason. So this had to happen for a reason. And what? What? You see, before I was sad because my girlfriend broke up with me, very like natural response to being broken up with. But now I was confused. I was sad because she left me, broke up with me, and now it was confused because now you're telling me that there's like this cosmic reason that perhaps we're not together anymore. And what is the greater meaning of this and tough times? People often use the phrase everything happens for a reason as a form of comfort, and you've likely used it, I've used it, us in the room, we have used it before. We're trying to provide encouragement when we are unsure of what else to say. Sometimes the situation and the circumstances are just so big or just so difficult, just so challenging, that we don't know what to say. And so, in trying to be helpful, we say well, everything happens for a reason. This breakup is tough, but it happens for a reason. Maybe you'll grow and you'll find a healthier and better relationship. Similarly, somebody who's laid off. They lost their job and they're facing financial insecurity. Now what are they going to do next? Are they going to lose their house if they can't pay the mortgage? We might say well, you know, losing your job, everything happens for a reason. There's got to be a reason behind this, and perhaps you'll get a better job after this that you wouldn't have even had looked for if you didn't lose this job. People use the phrase when they're maybe driving on the road and they say they narrowly miss an accident. They're almost hit and they say, wow, well, everything happens for a reason and I missed that accident Must be for a reason. If you didn't study for a test and you got a good score on it, that never happened to me, but if you never, you didn't study for a test and you got a good score and you said well, everything happens for a reason. We say this because it's a way to seek meaning when we struggle to comprehend the reasons behind something. So in these examples, whether you get broken up with you lose a job, something bad happens, something good happens and we don't know why. When we hear the phrase or use the phrase, everything happens for a reason, it suggests hidden purpose. It suggests that there is a positive outcome coming during the challenges, during these unexpected situations. And again, I think that we say it to be encouraging and to be helpful. I don't think that anyone says it maliciously. We want to lift up other people's spirits and sometimes we might say it to ourselves, to uplift our own. It's a way for us. Maybe nobody's telling us everything happens for a reason, but it's a belief that you and I have. Everything happens for a reason when we can't comprehend those difficult things that are going on. We want to believe in these reasons because it might seem like there are no answers or questions without them. Are you saying that maybe something bad happened to me just because something bad happened to me? Yeah, sometimes that is the case, and then when we say something like everything happens for a reason, these well-intentioned words hardly ever bring the reassurance or the assurance that we intend them to bring. If you've ever been in that situation and somebody has told you that, well you know, just relax, just calm down, everything happens for a reason. You know that there's hardly anything comforting about that. Nothing is comforting about that. And so today I'm concluding our series Questioning Christian Clashes, and throughout this series we've been taking everyday things that Christians say and Christians believe and we're asking ourselves to evaluate, to really think about this. Does this sound biblical or is this biblically sound? Does this just sound like something Jesus would say or is this actually something Jesus said? And what we have been discovering together over these last few weeks is that these sayings they have enough truth in them to make them sound believable, but they are primarily trite cliches that actually, in most cases, contradict biblical teaching. They're not entirely false, but they're mostly wrong. And what I mean by that they contradict biblical teaching is that we found that. Well, at a surface level it sounds like something that's in the Bible, but then, when we break it down, we find out that these statements hurt people or make them feel more lonely, more isolated, pushes them away from God, and we say, well, that's not really the fruit of our faith. We know that the fruit of our faith is a more fulfilling, a more satisfying life, and so if these phrases don't lead people to that, then they're probably not biblical. If this is your first week you're listening online, you're wondering why are we doing this series? I assure you it's not to prepare you for a cosmic Bible quiz. When you die and go to heaven, there's no test to get in. You're saved just by Jesus's grace, grace, love and forgiveness. We're not doing this so that you can have a pithy answer when somebody says everything happens for a reason and you're feeling snarky because you're hurt. We're not doing this so that if someday you're on jeopardy and this is the question that comes up you'll know the right answer. Although if you do get on jeopardy and you do know the right answer because of something that we're talking about today, I'd really appreciate, like a 5% of the earnings or something. The reason we're doing this series is because, as I just briefly alluded to, sometimes bad things happen to good people, sometimes bad things happen to good people and also bad things happen to bad people. The safest thing that we can say is that bad things happen to people. It's just. It just happens. And giving people who are going through a tough time a Sunday school answer like, well, you know, god helps those who help themselves, or God won't give you more than you can handle, it often hurts people's faith and it unnecessarily drives them away from God. And so, when we're doing this study, the reason is is that we wanna break these common sayings down so that so that we can learn what we should say in these situations, so we learn and know what we could do and can do when those around us are going through difficult circumstances, so that we can be helpful and that the words we say and that the things we do actually draw people closer to God rather than push them away from Him. And the phrase for today, if you didn't already pick it up, is that everything happens for a reason. Everything happens for a reason, or does it? What do we mean when we say everything happens for a reason Is that everything happens for a reason, because sometimes I'm dumb and I make stupid choices. That's true. I think, though, as followers of Jesus or as Christians, when we say everything happens for a reason, what we really mean is that everything happens for a divine reason. There's a divine reason for everything we believe in. What we're essentially saying is that everything that happens in the world good, bad or otherwise is because of God's will. Now, I wanna dispel that, and it's not gonna take me very long at all to dispel that. If everything happens for a divine reason, then it is God who is ultimately responsible for every act of evil that has caused pain and suffering in the world, because if everything happens for a divine reason, god didn't just allow bad things to happen. He caused it to have happened For some cosmic purpose. God wanted these things to happen. So, in this view, if we say that everything happens for a reason and it is a divine reason, then every senseless act of violence, every instance of world hunger, every occurrence of disease in the world is ultimately for some greater good that you and I just cannot understand, and even though God created us, and we have this ache to know why and this ache for wholeness, it's God that's behind it. If this is confusing and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, good, it's not supposed to make sense. But if you do identify with this perspective that everything happens for a divine reason, that everything is predestined and everything is already predetermined, then you must be able and ready to take it to its logical conclusion, and that is the devil didn't make you do this. The devil didn't make them do that, god did. The idea that everything happens for a divine reason may be a comforting thought for some people, but it simply does not align with biblical teachings and the overarching narrative of scripture. The biblical text reveal a God who empowers us with choices and decisions and values, our agency, and so on. The one extreme when we say that everything happens for a reason and it is a divine reason, we're saying that everything is determined and we just don't find that to be biblical when it's very inconsistent. And at the same time, what you might be hearing is that well then, what can God do? Can God even do anything? Or is God sitting on his hands and just watching this thing float into further chaos? And that's not true either. God isn't doing nothing. That would also contradict biblical teaching and the narrative of scripture. Sometimes God directly intervenes in the world, for example Jesus. Jesus came. He lived life we should have lived. He died the death we all deserve. He overcame sin and death and ascended into heaven so that you and I could experience grace, love and forgiveness. God directly intervenes when we can't help ourselves. That was primarily what we talked about the last two weeks. But to understand why so many bad things do happen, we have to understand the concept of dominion. When God created the world, he made everything. Out of it there was nothing, and then there was something, and out of that something he made everything that we see today All the animals, all the trees and the plants, the water, the skies. He created everything and at the pinnacle of his creation was you and me. At the pinnacle of God's creation was people, it was us. He created someone, a creature, a being in his image, and he doesn't just create them and leave them as part of everything else. He sets them apart and he says to us he says you are to rule over the fish, the birds, the animals. You are to rule over this creation with me. He gives us plants and trees to use for food. God gives us special responsibility to share in his dominion and to continue his excellent order. The Psalmist paraphrases it this way he says what are human beings that you think about them? What are human beings that you pay attention to them? You've made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. You've let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet All sheep and all cattle, the wild animals too, the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. The psalmist says who are we? That not only did you create us, but you think of us. And not only did you create us, not only do you think of us, but that you would share in ruling with us. God created you in his image and he has chosen to share dominion of creation with you. And in order for this to happen, as we are reading it, as we're being told, it means that you have to have a choice, you have to have free will. For us to really have co-dominion, we have to share in the responsibility. We have to be able to choose love or to choose hate. We have to be able to choose good or to be able to choose bad. And well, why would God allow us to have that sort of ability? Because God wants a relationship with us. God wants a relationship with people who can choose to love him. For some of us, we've been in a relationship where the other person didn't love us back and we tried to force them to love us, or we thought, if we just stick it out, that they will learn to love us. And what we learned and what we experienced was that just wasn't true, that we can't force someone to choose to love us, that we can't do that at all. And God could have. It's well within God's power to create people, but we know that that wouldn't be love. If somehow you and I were able to convince someone that we were in a relationship with to love us, we were able to convince them, manipulate them, control them, we would say is that really a loving relationship if they didn't have the choice to choose to love me? And I think in the same way, god concludes something similar. And God created us not just for co-dominant, but to be able to choose to love him back. Now there are some unsettling things about this view, just like in the view of determinism, in which everything happens for a reason, and that's a divine reason, we say well then, that means every act of war is God. Well, this means, in this view, in which you and I have choices, one of the unsettling things is that, yes, sometimes things happen in the world that God doesn't want to have happened. I don't think God wants the wars to happen, for there to be instances of hunger where people are starving, I don't think God wants there to be poverty. But something that is unsettling doesn't make it true or false. It is unsettling, but that doesn't make it untrue. When the serpent confronts Eve in the garden, he tempts her with the question. He says question God's goodness, question your autonomy. Can you really choose this? Can you really choose that? Don't you want to know as much as God? God is holding out on you, and Adam and Eve exercise their own dominion, the dominion that God gave them their free will, the ability to choose, not what God wants, to be able to choose what they want and what we've seen as a ripple effect then of sin, death and destruction. They made a choice right immediately, that went against God's good order, and this story, it just, it's the pattern that has repeated itself over and over and over again, right down the meat, right down to you. I make selfish choices, even though I don't want to, even though I try not to. I did last week and I will next week. And I'm guessing, if you're being honest, if you're being humble and you're thinking about yourself, you have made choices this week that you know weren't for the greater good. You made choices that you knew weren't God's will for your life. You made choices that you knew God didn't want you to make, but you did it and you're going to do it again. And that's not to beat anyone up, it's not to beat you up, it's not to beat me up, but it is to say that not everything that happens is because of God's will. In the Old Testament there's the story. If you grew up in church, in Sunday school, there's a story of a man named Joseph. You might remember Joseph from having this very colorful coat. What might get lost in the story or detail you perhaps forgot, was that Joseph had eleven brothers and they did not get the coat. So Jacob, joseph's dad, gives Joseph, his favorite son, this great coat, and it kind of stands out from all the other brothers and sisters. And if you have siblings, you can imagine just how hurt and angry you would be if one Christmas you didn't get very much of anything. And then you know your parents' favorite kid got something, and they weren't even trying to hide it from you. They were straight up saying that this is my favorite child. I hope none of you had to go through that experience. It sounds awful, but that is what happened in this story. And one day the Joseph story really gets going when his eleven brothers are out doing work. Joseph's not doing work, he's at home in his very colorful coat and his dad sends them to go get the brothers. And so we pick up this story in Genesis 37. As Joseph approached his brothers, a sinister plan began to take shape. And before we judge the brothers for doing this again, can we just understand for a moment how we would feel if our brother who's sitting at home not doing anything or dad said that he was the favorite, he's got all this nice stuff comes to us? We would probably do the same thing. A sinister plan begins to take shape. They recognize him, joseph, from a distance, sneering at the dreamer who dared to share his dreams. Let's kill him, they whispered, and throw him into one of these cisterns. We'll inform our father that a wild animal has devoured him, and we'll see what becomes of his dreams. And though his brothers initially intend to take his life, they end up sparing him instead. They cast him into a cistern, which is kind of an ancient well, and eventually they sell him into two slavers. They sell him to traitors and, unbeknownst to Reuben, one of Joseph's brothers who planned to rescue Joseph. Reuben was going to come back and save Joseph. He was not about killing him, but he didn't know. That was what happened and it had already happened. So by the time Reuben gets back, he discovers that they had sold Joseph and there's really no going back from that. The other brothers dip Joseph's robe into goat's blood and they convinced Jacob, their dad, that a wild animal savagely attacked his beloved son. Jacob was inconsolable and he could not find solace. Joseph eventually ends up in Egypt, where he is sold to a Potiphar and Egyptian officer, and God continued to be with Joseph, even though his brothers exercised dominion to do something bad, to say, thought about killing him, and then they ended up selling him. God was still with him and brought him into Potiphar's house and prospered everything that Joseph did. So, whatever Joseph did, it ended up going really well. Impressed by Joseph's success, potiphar entrusts him with more responsibility. Potiphar says hey, everything you do ends up going really well, turning out really great. I want you to be in charge of everything. Joseph's unwavering faith and commitment would soon be tested, though. We read in Genesis that Joseph's a good looking, he's a handsome guy, and Potiphar's wife eventually makes her move on him. She wants to have sex with him. She asks him to go to bed, and Joseph says no. Joseph's response is that actually Potiphar, her husband? He says he's put me in charge of everything that he owns except you. And so Joseph is saying that there's this line that I will not cross. And upon being rejected, she falsely accuses him of attempting to rape her, and Potiphar is angered. Potiphar says hey, I put you in front, in charge of everything, and the one thing I didn't put you in charge of was my wife. And yet you still tried it anyway. Joseph says that's not true, but he is put in a prison. Joseph goes from the cistern to the cell, a prison cell. His brothers exercised dominion and free choice. They chose evil, as did Potiphar's wife. While incarcerated, joseph found himself interpreting dreams, a spiritual gift that God gave him, and two of Pharaoh's workers, a cupbearer and a baker, were in prison with him. You see, pharaoh got upset with them and instead of writing them up or firing them, he put them in prison, because this was way before modern work laws. Joseph interprets their dreams. These two guys are released, one of them is killed, the other one's not. The one that's not killed promises that he's going to tell Pharaoh about Joseph so that Joseph can get out of jail. But he doesn't. And years go by. Joseph is just sitting in jail until years later. Pharaoh's starting to have dreams, and these dreams disturb him deeply, and so he seeks out an interpretation from magicians and wise men, but their efforts were futile. They don't know why Pharaoh is having these dreams. And that's the moment when the cupbearer says oh yeah, there's this guy in prison named Joseph. I was supposed to tell you about him actually years ago, but this is a good time to bring it up. He could interpret your dreams, and so they get him out of prison. They get Joseph out of prison. They bring him before Pharaoh and Joseph revealed the dreams meaning foreseeing seven years of abundance followed by seven years of devastating famine. Impressed by Joseph's wisdom, pharaoh appointed him to oversee the preparations for the looming famine. Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, pharaoh declared clearly no one else is as intelligent or as wise as you are, and you will be in charge of my court and all my people will take orders from you. And, sure enough, there's seven years of abundance, just as Joseph interpreted the dreams that Pharaoh had. And then there was famine. And this famine stretches out all over the region and it eventually hits Jacob, joseph's dad and Joseph's brothers, who he still hasn't had contact with after all of these years. And Jacob's family is faced with a decision they have to leave home or they're going to starve to death. Rumors have spread that Egypt has a ton of food because they had been somehow prepared for this famine. So the brothers go to Egypt and, to make a long story short, joseph eventually says hey, it's me, I'm your brother. You can imagine how the brothers felt. They thought well, we're definitely not going to eat tonight because we tried to kill him and then we sold them into slavery and now he's not going to help us. But that's not what Joseph does. Joseph extends grace, love and forgiveness to his brothers, and the brothers go home and get Jacob, his dad. They're all reunited at the end of this story. Eventually, jacob passes away and then the brothers kind of get scared again, because if you've ever been in a fight with a sibling, and a sibling who could really, you know, kick your butt you know that mom and dad jumped in and saved you, and it was only mom and dad keeping you from your brother or sister Really nailing. Ya, that's kind of what the brothers are starting to experience here. You see, jacob passed away and they thought Joseph was just being nice because dad was still alive, keeping him alive. But Joseph reassured them. Joseph says don't be afraid of me. Am I God that I can punish you? And this is the important part. You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. You see, in this one verse, genesis 50, 20, joseph acknowledges free will and choice. He says you, my brothers, you intended to harm me. You intended for this to not work out for me but God. But God intended it and worked it all out for good. Joseph life, joseph's life, illustrates the interplay of free will and divine providence. No, god doesn't want everything that happens in the world to have had happened, but he can work through it. All his brothers Joseph's brother made a choice to sell him into slavery, but God brought him to Potiphar and blessed him. While he was with Potiphar, potiphar's wife might have accused him of rape, but in prison God gave him this gift of interpreting dreams. And then he gets out of prison and he becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt. God blessed him despite all of the bad things that people were doing all around him. And we can relate to this because our lives, our journey, our lives are a journey of choices that we make and choices that people make around us, that that impact us, that affect us, and we make choices that impact and affect the lives of those around us. And so that makes the terrain, this journey of life, rugged and much like explorers navigating unknown territories, we're gonna face adversity, just like Joseph, we're gonna face challenges that test our faith and our values. And so this idea that I want to leave you with, as we're challenging that, this idea that everything happens for a reason and it's a divine reason and that's not biblical, I want you to begin to consider, to embrace resiliency, like fearless explorers. Embrace resiliency. Life is an unpredictable journey and it can sometimes hit us hard, and we all know that. Having a sport network in place before adversity strikes is invaluable. But we have to begin to invest in that now. We have to begin to invest in it before the tragedy hits. For some of us, we're already in there. I'll talk about that in a minute. But for those of us who things are going well in our lives, it's time to build that support network now. It's time to help other people who are on the same similar journey as us and give them a hand up, because sooner or later we will need a hand up as well. And for those of us who are going through an exceptionally difficult time and we didn't build the support system yet, one Madison Church in our community wants to be here for you. We want to rally around you and help you. But there might be this might be a time in which you seek out Professional guidance from people like therapists, counselors or support groups, and there's nothing wrong with that. These experts can equip you with tools and strategies to navigate challenging situations, and I just want you to know that for me, I don't think that there's anything wrong with seeking out professional help. I don't consider it a weakness. I really think it's a proactive step to resilience, assisting other people. It is a two-way path to create positive change in our life. Again, sometimes we're gonna be the ones on the ground that need a hand up, and when we're not on the ground, when we're on our Own two feet, we need to give people a hand up. This is what God wants us to do. I think of the many people at Madison Church who are doing this. While, like our elder board our elder board that celebrates other people's Achievements they support our collective growth and development. They're reaching out to people and asking how they're doing and praying for them during the week and not because they have to, but because they want to and in turn, as a church community, we can support them and love them by offering and doing the same for them. I think about our trustees, who remained level-headed and analytical throughout the pandemic, as we go into this time of financial Uncertainty, and they were so analytical and and level-headed they made sure that we didn't just get through it, we didn't just survive, but that we thrived. All around us we see examples at Madison Church of people who are doing this. Sam not perfect, but I'm on my feet and I can give you a hand up, and that doesn't mean that there aren't people who fall and I have fallen and people around us have fallen and we need support from one another. I Understand that many of us are going through. Many of you are going through something just absolutely Challenging. Some of you might be coping with the loss of a loved one, managing an ongoing health issue, facing serious relationship difficulties all those are dealing with financial struggles, parenting, child care complexities, mental health challenges and Addiction, and I know that many of you are carrying that alone. And the first thing I want to say is that you don't have to be alone. We're here for you, we want to be here for you. But the second thing I want you to know is that just because you're going through a tough time doesn't mean that God caused it. God's presence isn't confined confined to Joseph's story. It wasn't like God said, joseph, I pick you and choose you and you're special, just like Jacob said you were special. God thinks all of us are special and he is working all things for our good. My favorite promise in the whole entire Bible is found in Romans 8, 28, when Paul writes we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Well, not necessarily everything that happens is for a divine reason. God can use everything that happens for a reason, okay. Well, not everything that happens in our lives is divine. God uses everything that happens for a reason and he can use the most twisted and painful Experiences that you are going through to bring something good from them. From the ashes, god creates beauty, from darkness, god shines light, and from despair, god offers us hope. Now, that doesn't mean that life always becomes more manageable. It doesn't mean that life becomes easier, but whether God works out the good for you in this life or the next, he ensures it will serve a greater purpose. There is hope, an eternal hope that we can find in Jesus and in Jesus alone. So, even when you feel abandoned or isolated, it's crucial that you recognize that God loves you, that God is with you and that God cares more deeply for you. Then you can fathom and he will, as he promises he will work everything out for your good.