Romans 8:26-39

Will You Sink Or Will You Swim?

July 30 2017

            Many of you know that my dog Bella and I were “reunited” a few weeks ago. Bella had been living with Marty Wynn, Jerry and Connie’s son.  Marty lives in Wilmington, has a pool in his yard, and a boat he takes out into the sound. I think Bella liked her lifestyle at Marty’s!  One of the rules Marty has is that all the dogs at his house have to learn to swim.  Every summer he takes his dogs and gives them a “refresher course” on how to swim.  He wants to make sure they know what to do if they fell in the pool. 

            When Connie told me about Marty making sure that Bella know how to swim it reminded me of experiences at Church Camps. One of the safety measures taken at camps is that the children were tested for their ability to swim.  If they could swim well would be  given a green wristband to wear all week to signify that they can swim in any part of the pool, jump off of the diving board, and take canoes and kayaks on the lake. If they could swim some but not very well they were given a yellow wristband to wear all week to signify that they can only swim in the shallow  parts of the pool – but not the deepest parts. Campers who could not swim at all would be given red wristbands to signify that they were not allowed in the pool.  

Our passage from Romans 8:26-39 for today makes me think about Marty’s water safety procedures and the water safety procedures at camps. You see, the challenges and dangers and struggles we all face in life and call us to know how to “swim” through these challenges, and not  “sink”.   

Scott Peck begins his book The Road Less Traveled with this statement:

Life is difficult.  

Yes, it is.  You probably don’t need someone to tell you that.  Life has it’s joys and it’s laughs and it’s good times – but it also has it’s difficulties and hard times and tears and times that seem almost impossible to take.

Life is difficult. The question is this:

How do you cope with the hard, difficult, painful, tear filled times?

If you had to wear a “colored wristband” to show how well you cope with the hard, difficult , painful, tear filled times of your life – what color would your wristband be?  Would it be green – to signify that you can withstand whatever hardships may come your way? Or would it be yellow – to signify that you can withstand some hardships – but not very many? Or would it be red – to signify that you are not able to withstand any hardships – and even the  least difficult thing might make you “go under” and never recover?

Difficult – hard – painful times are going to come – but when they do – do you sink – or do you swim? What color is your wristband that signifies how you react to the hard – difficult – and painful times of life?

In our passage from Romans 8 today – verses 26-39 – Paul gives us a way to cope with the hard – painful – and difficult times of life. Paul tells us in verse 28:

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            

            Paul is not saying that everything that happens in life is good, because much of it is indeed not good. What Paul is saying is that – if  you add all the happenings of life together and look at the whole picture of  life for the person who has faith in God and loves God and grows in God’s love and shares the love of God – you see that  life is good. The whole of life, its ups and downs, are good when we see them interrelated in a life under the guidance of God. 

If you want to have a green wristband and swim through all the events of life – the good and the bad – you have to have faith in God and you have to grow in your faith.  Without it you might have a yellow wristband and be able to take some of the difficulties life may throw at you – or you might have a red wristband and not be able to take any difficulties at all without completely losing all reason for living. 

Faith in God – and growing in that faith – are the only things that will keep you afloat through the hard – difficult – and painful times of life.

Would you say that the life of Paul — with all its imprisonments, shipwrecks, beatings and his final execution was not a  good and even blessed life?

Would you say that the life of Jesus, even with the denial and the cross, was not a good – and even blessed — life?

Then why should not the totality of the life of someone who believes in God and grows in their faith in God — with all of the joys and sorrows of their lives – all of the victories and defeats —  in its completion be considered good and even very blessed?

Loving God, trusting God, obeying God, and growing in God’s love brings you a blessed life regardless of life’s circumstances – and gives you that “green wristband” that helps you “swim” in all the circumstances of your life and not “sink”.

Have you ever thought about how a great battleship floats on the high seas – but if you take  it apart and throw the parts into the ocean very little of it would float? The pieces would sink immediately to the bottom. The parts will not float by themselves, but if you build them together into a great ship it will ride out the worst of storms. 

It’s that way with your life also.  If you try to live your life and “weather” the hard times of your life by yourself, you’ll have a “red wristband” – you will sink and be drowned by the storms life will throw at you.  But – if you have faith in God and grow in that faith – you will have a “green wristband” and will weather all the storms of life – not because you can do it on your own – but because you have God with you to keep you from sinking and drowning. 

Yea – Paul is correct when he writes:

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           

And Paul continues in verse in verses 29-30:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

              Wow! What a powerful truth Paul gives us here!

But – you might ask: “Am I included in all this?”  And the answer is: “Yes, if I you committed to Christ and committed to growing in your faith and serving Him.”

If you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior and are committed to growing in your faith, God has ordained you to be shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ. He has done this so that you may be a brother or sister of Christ,  serve Him, be loved by Him and empowered by Him, and  share His love with the world in your day by day living. He has forgiven you and He has justified you.  If that be the case for your life, then the totality of  the events of your life – the good and the bad — turn out to be good and blessed. If that be the case for your life, you have that “green wristband” that shows that – by God’s help – you will not sink in the storms of life but will swim through them.

This is all the act of God. You can get in on it when you are truly committed to Christ. Here’s the thing – God is eternally committed to those who are committed to Him.

But there is a problem here.

Yes – God blesses and ordains those who are committed to Him. God blesses and ordains those who have faith and want to grow in their faith. 

But – the problem is — we live in a faithless age.

Too many folks refuse to have real faith – refuse to grow in their faith – and refuse to share their faith with others.  For that reason, too many people have “yellow” or “red” wristbands and can not cope with the difficulties life throws at them.  They don’t have the faith they need to cope with life, and so they “sink” when the situations in their lives become difficult.

Why can’t more people find their way to a deep and abiding faith in God?

Why can’t more people become more committed to God and committed to growing in their faith – committed to the things that will help them grow as disciples and servants of Christ – and the things that will help them “swim” through the problems they will find in life instead of “sink”?

  Anne Tyler wrote of one of the characters in her book Morgan’s Passing:

  “You could say he was a man who had gone to pieces, or maybe he’d always been in pieces; maybe he’d arrived unassembled.”

The description continues:

“parts of his life, too, lay separate from other parts.”

It’s easy to see that this fictional man Tyler writes about is in a bad fix — but sadly this is the picture of too many people today.  You may know some in this situation. You may be in it yourself.  For people who do not have faith in Christ and do not commit to growing in that faith, life has no  integrating center, no power or presence that pulls the parts of their lives together and re-makes them into the individual God intends them to be. This integrating power they are missing is the power of faith and the powerful knowledge that God is with them in all the situations of their lives.

You may feel that you are living a life without an integrating power that pulls the events of your life together and makes them all work together for God’s glory.  If you do, know that you don’t have to.  You can live in faith and commitment and grow in your faith – and your character can be shaped by the things of God instead of the things of the world.

St. Augustine tells of a friend who was addicted to the lust and violence of the Roman games. With great effort he broke the addiction. But some of his former friends subtly tricked him into going again to one of the games. He kept his eyes closed, finally opened one eye – and became hooked again.

You see – if you are going to live the life of faith where things work together for your good and you are able to withstand the stresses and hardships of life, you will have to make a clean break with sin and the things of the world that pull you down.

And that – as I am sure you know – can be very difficult in a world so saturated with evil.

It makes it necessary to live by a new selectivity – a Christian selectivity – about the things you allow yourself to do.  You will probably have to decide that you are not going to dwell on  certain magazines, books, or movies that are obviously damaging to your living in the ways God call is calling you to live. You will have to help your children choose a similar selectivity for what they see and do.  

The temptations of Rome that were faced by the young St. Augustine were similar to the temptations we have to face today. In his intense moral struggle the young St. Augustine cried out:

“Will I never cease setting my heart on shadows and following a lie?”

When you are giving in to destructive influences, things do not work together for good – and you don’t have the faith that will help you “swim” through the hardest parts of life.

The conversion of St. Augustine came in a strange way. He felt compelled to rush into his room where he had left his New Testament open at the book of Romans. He snatched it up and read:

“Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries, rather arm, arm yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He surrendered, and you know the rest of the story.

If you will give your life to Christ, and commit to growing in your faith, you will live in His love – that love that will save you from the hardest and most difficult times of your life.

A young lady was hobbling around on crutches at a Ski Lodge. Someone asked “What happened?”

She answered “I didn’t realize the laws of gravity were so strict.”

But they are strict. Yea — God’s laws are strict. And they are for our good. God even helps us to handle these laws creatively. The secret is being disciplined in your faith, by the grace of God.

So – do you have a “green wristband” of a committed faith in God that will help you live your life in God’s ways and will help you “swim” through the hardest times of your life knowing that God is working all the things in your life out for His purpose — or do you have a “yellow wristband” or a “red wristband” that comes from a life of not being truly committed to God and His ways where you will “sink” when your life gets hard and difficult?

God is there in all the ups and downs of your life – but you have to hear Him and see Him. 

At times God may be speaking, but you may be too busy to listen. At times you may not want to hear what God is saying to you. Maybe it’s not what you want to hear. Maybe His plan for what He wants you to do is contrary to our plans and what you want to do.  If you are going to grow in  your faith, you have to be willing to listen for God – and do what God calls you to do.

Don’t wait for a crisis moment in your life to cry out to and listen to God. Learn to listen to God in all the moments of your life – and you will see how God is at work in all the moments of your life.

Don’t think God is too busy to be with you and to help you in your life. St Augustine wrote:

God loves each of us as if there were but one of us to love.

God is not too busy to be concerned about your life and help you through the circumstances of your life if you put your faith in Him.  .

Yes – life is difficult – but if you commit yourself to God and to growing in your faith God is always with you.  If you commit yourself to God and to growing in your faith all the circumstances of your life will work together for your good – and when you look back over your life you will see God’s gracious hand at work.

It takes a commitment to God’s ways to live this life of faith. It takes commitment to your daily life of prayer and study of scripture, and commitment to sharing God with others. It takes commitment to the corporate life we have together as God’s people here at Edgewoodl – commitment to our worship, our learning, our fellowship and our service to others – because as you participate in these things with us and we all participate in these things together you will grow in your faith and we call will grow together.

Most of all, it takes commitment to Christ to be able to “swim” through the hardships of life and not “sink”. 

I still remember the closing worship service at Camp Monroe   one week I served as the Pastor In  Residence. They had a wooden cross at the lake.  Each person lit a candle to signify their commitment to Christ and living in His ways and put it into a hole in the cross.  As we sang “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus” the cross with the burning candles was set afloat into the lake. I don’t understand exactly how the wooden cross floated – but it did – and made for an impressive ending to the service.

You may not understand how it happens – but your faith in the Christ – who died for you on the cross — is what will help you “flcoat” – or “swim” through the hard times in your life and not “sink”.   Let God and the things of God be your center for your life so you can indeed “swim” and not “sink”.

Amen.