I had pastored two churches for 20 years in New Jersey. The second we planted and stayed almost 17 years. Our congregation was never large—100-120 at its peak. But it was alive! All ages, mostly young marrieds. Standing at the pulpit, SundaysI looked out at a sea of white, black and brown faces. Some were newly saved. Others came from “mainline” churches. Some, like Lois and I, had a Pentecostal background. Others came out of Catholicism. The variety brought excitement—and also two major splits. We developed and ran a daycare and preschool five days a week. A variety of small groups met weeknights. We had a worship team of guitars, drums, piano, flute (my daughter Meridith)—even a harp.
After almost 17 years the church leveled off and I was worn out. I resigned. We moved to Florida. I needed a respite from pastoral ministry—3-5 years, I thought, to catch my breath, then back to pastoring.
But what would I do for work in the meantime? I had only a B.A. degree in Bible. Not many employers panting for that! So I bought that carpet dyeing and cleaning company. The only “dyeing” experience I had was at funerals. I flew to Texas for a week of training. Then back and began my business in Tampa. I soon learned that the only people who wanted a carpet dyed were cat people who couldn’t afford a new one and whose lovely little pets had urinated all over the old one. So mostly I cleaned carpets. For awhile I had three other guys working with me, but that proved financially unfeasible. So I became a lone wolf carpet-cleaner, except for the months my son Michael worked with me.
After six months I was miserable. I was a pastor. What in the world was I doing cleaning carpets and dyeing cat-urinated rugs? I started searching for a ministry opportunity. Nothing. Nobody wanted me. Then I learned that the pastor of Port Richey Community Church was retiring. I preached; they loved me. Or were they as desperate for a pastor as I was for being one? The rest, of course, is history.
Except I had to sell the business. It wasn’t like I had a thriving McDonald’s franchise to sell. Finally I found a fool—I mean guy— who wanted it, if I would finance it. Anything! Eventually I lost half the selling price when he walked away. So you see why I say buying that company was the biggest mistake I ever made.
Now: how does Romans 8:28 fit that?
And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.
That carpet-cleaning company was a bad mistake. But part of “all things”, right? God would make even the bad mistake of a preacher-turned-carpet-cleaner good! Looking back, I wonder what good? I didn’t set any franchise records for the most urine-stained carpets dyed. Didn’t become the carpet-cleaning king of South Tampa. Wasn’t on a TV commercial shouting, “But wait! If you want two rooms cleaned, I’ll do both for $19.95. Just pay the extra shipping and handling .” So what good did our able God bring from my bad mistake?
I don’t suppose you ever brought a carpet-dyeing company. But I bet you did make a bad mistake and fall back on Romans 8:28. Get any good from God? Maybe no matter how hard you searched, you found none.
The only good I found from my monster-mistake was money to put food on the table. No small thing, I know. It did help us survive our first year in paradise. But as far as I could see, that was it.
So what shall we say when Romans 8:28 doesn’t seem to work for us?
First, read Romans 8:29.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,
in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
The “good” God promises to bring out of “all things” is our being “conformed to the image of his Son.” Not money. Not a promotion. Not health. Not a new car. Not a long life. Sanctification which culminates in glorification.
And those he predestined he also called,
and those whom he called he also justified,
and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).
I hated that carpet dyeing and cleaning work. Maybe, then, one good thing the Lord brought out of it for me was a more persevering spirit. (Perseverance, by the way, is the good side of stubbornness.) It lasted “only” a (long!) year; but day after day I put on my “uniform”, drove to Tampa, cleaned carpets in homes and apartments, even a hotel, and occasionally dyed a few of those putrid pet rugs. I tried to market my business to get new customers—all the while gritting my teeth and digging in my heels. I kept sucking up dirty carpet water until I found another moron (I mean, entrepreneur) to buy the business. Perseverance—a good virtue, because “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
Even for me—a guy who barely knows which end of a screwdriver to use and whose business experience amounted to asking my wife to handle our money—the holy God of creation and the cross was at work developing endurance in my soul. Through my bad mistake!
Second, read Romans 5:1-5.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in our hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, (even cleaning carpets)
know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character,
and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
There’s the sanctification process—suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces non-disappointed hope, the hope of sharing in the glory of God.
That tells me there’s an Everest-high mountain of good God will yet bring out of our bad mistakes—a mountain of good called “glory” that God will give us in the eternal age to come. I could find only a little good out of my bad carpet-cleaning company mistake. But that doesn’t mean that’s all the good there is. I’m caught up by grace into the process of sanctification (being made more like Jesus, even through my bad mistakes) which will climax in glorification forever.
So, if you’re like me, unable to find much good from God out of your bad mistakes, be encouraged. That great good of sanctification climaxing in eternal glorification is still in process!
I’m just hoping on that day the Lord won’t say to me, “Remember that old carpet-cleaning machine you had to work with? Look! Here’s a golden one with resurrection power. There’s no dirt anywhere on the new earth it can’t suck up!” (He wouldn’t do that, right?)