As the kids trotted down the aisle to the front of the church, Pastor Paul sat down on the altar steps and placed a large brown paper bag on the floor next to him. A few children tried to sneak a peek inside the bag as they found a place to sit, but Pastor kept the contents hidden. “All right. Before we get started,” he said, “who would like a cookie?” Hands shot up like rockets and shouts of “Me! Me! I do!” quickly followed. “I thought that might be the case,” Pastor Paul said. “Well, then let me open up this bag and hand out some treats…”
The kids edged closer and could hardly hold their enthusiasm as he opened up the bag and reached in. Letting the anticipation build even more, he paused for dramatic effect with his hand in the bag before yanking out the first round of goodies and displaying them high above his head. The kids cheered…initially…then shared some puzzled looks as they beheld the treats: several sticks of butter! Pastor quickly handed them out, confusing the children even more, then also handed out a tub of Crisco, some flour, several raw eggs (which, amazingly, did not break) and a small bottle of vanilla extract. “Go ahead,” he said, “help yourselves. Enjoy. Your parents won’t mind.”
After a few more moments of confusion amongst the kids, the chatter slowly began…“these aren’t cookies”…“we can’t eat raw eggs”…“butter…yuk”…and so on. “What’s wrong,” Pastor Paul asked. “I thought you said you wanted some cookies.” “We wanted real cookies,” was the collective response. But pastor continued to press them, “what, you don’t think this stick of butter looks yummy? And how about these eggs….mmmm those shells look good. You don’t think these will taste great?” The kids made it crystal clear they thought all of these things would definitely taste terrible and that pastor might be losing his mind.
“Ok, I think I get the picture,” Pastor Paul said as he reached back into the bag, “you were looking for something more like these.” This time he produced a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to everyone’s delight. “Yes!” the kids agreed. But pastor wasn’t ready to give in just yet. “Ok, but I’m confused. These cookies, which you all think are going to taste great, were made from all of these things,” pointing to the eggs, butter and other ingredients, “but you think these ingredients would taste awful. Do I have that right? How is that possible?”
The chatter died down quickly as the children searched for an answer. Then one of the girls offered “because you have to mix them together and cook them like my grandmother does to make them taste good.” “You know what,” Pastor Paul said, “I think you’re exactly right. Your Grandmother can take these things…these ingredients that taste awful by themselves…and put them together in a way that turns them into something wonderful. Isn’t that amazing?”
“And do you know something else even more amazing? God can do exactly the same thing in in your life and mine. We like to talk about happy things when we’re here at church, but the truth is…not everything that happens to us in our life is going to be good. In fact, we know that bad things happen and we’ll go through some sad times. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we may get hurt or lose someone we love. But the Bible teaches us that God can use everything that happens…good and bad…to form something good. Romans 8:28 tells us ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’”
“Now listen carefully because this is important. We may not always understand why bad things happen. Sometimes these things may make us stronger. Sometimes they may strengthen our faith and bring us closer to God. Sometimes they may offer others the chance to see God through us. But often we may never know or understand why bad things happen. Even so, one thing we know for certain…because God told us it’s true…is that God ultimately causes all things to work together for good. If your grandmother can mix these awful tasting ingredients together to make some delicious cookies, just imagine what great things God, the creator of the entire universe, can make from the things…good and bad…that happen in our lives!”