Everything Happens for a Reason? Really? What the Bible really says about making all things good. (September 22, 2019)

Everything Happens for a Reason? Really?

Jeff: Back in the day when I was a trial lawyer, I took a lot of depositions.

A deposition is an opportunity to ask questions of a witness or party to a lawsuit while they are under oath.

You depose someone to learn everything the person knows about the events and circumstances surrounding the lawsuit.

Most witnesses are really trying to be honest and helpful.

But you have to listen carefully to what the witness says.

Sometimes they answer questions using terms and phrases that really aren’t very helpful to someone who is trying to be thorough.

Here is an example.

One time I was taking the deposition of a doctor.

I wanted to know what was said and what was done during an appointment the plaintiff had with the doctor.

As I asked him questions, he continuously ended his sentences with the phrase, “and so on.”

“I looked at the chart, and so on.”

 “We talked about her symptoms, and so on …”

“I performed a physical examination, and so on …”

This went on for a few questions.

Finally, I asked him what all was included in his that phrase, “and so on”?

By attaching “and so on” to the end of each answer he was clearly implying that there was more left unsaid.

I wanted to know what that was.

The doctor was actually stumped, and seriously tried to think of more things that were said and done when there really were none.

I don’t think he was trying to be deceptive.

I think he was trying to be comprehensive and helpful.

But he wasn’t.

The problem is that the phrase, “and so on”, in those circumstances, was not helpful.

That is what happens when you start to take apart vague figures of speech that seem to say something helpful, but when taken apart … well … don’t and aren’t.

That came to mind when I read Kate Bowler’s book, “Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved”.

For those of you who have not read the book, it is an autobiographical account of Dr. Bowler’s diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 35.

Bowler also wrote a great article in the New York Times where she describes this event:

A neighbor came to the house to offer condolences and after a brief discussion with Bowler’s husband, Tobin, said to him:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

For those who have not read the article and did not read the spoiler in this week’s Sunshine, what do you think Tobin’s answer was?

Thanks?

I feel so much better now?

No.

Tobin said:

 “I’d love to hear it.”

Bowler said the woman was startled.

“Pardon?” she said.

“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” Tobin said.

Basically, Tobin was questioning this woman about the meaning of her words.

What about that statement is helpful?

Comforting?

Why might someone say such a thing to a grieving husband?

How would we like it if after every prayed concern we raised on Sundays our response was, “everything happens for a reason”?

Why would we say that?

Bowler says this:

My neighbor wasn’t trying to sell him a spiritual guarantee. But there was a reason she wanted to fill that silence around why some people die young and others grow old and fussy about their lawns. She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.

We want there to be a reason for everything and we want it to be a good one.

And because God is all powerful and all good, God makes everything happen for a good reason.

So, things aren’t so bad, right?

That’s what the Bible says, right?

News flash … it doesn’t.

Matt: Sure, it does!

Romans 8: 28

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 

Everything happens for God’s good reason.

And God makes even the bad stuff turn out good.

Everything does happen for a reason, though only God knows the reason, and because God is sovereign, it is a good reason!

Just because we don’t know what the reason is, we know it is a good one and that should give us hope and comfort.

I don’t have to cross examine God to have hope and comfort.

Jeff: OK Matt.

Let’s take a look at Romans 8: 28 in context and see if it says what you think it says.

Romans 8: 26-39

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of the challenges when reading the Bible is that every phrase needs to be understood in its context.

The Bible can’t be reduced to vague overgeneralizations based on single verses.

We can make the Bible say just about anything if we do that.

We need to sort of question scripture, kind of like deposing the Bible, so that we can fully understand what it is saying to us.

We can’t just pluck out v. 28 and say, “This is what the Bible says!”

So, let’s take a look at v. 28.

If we say that v. 28 means that when some horrible tragedy comes our way, God will take that tragedy and turn it into something good, we are misrepresenting Paul at the risk of turning someone against God!

“Tell me the reason my wife, who loves God, has cancer.”

“Tell me what God’s purpose is.”

“Tell me the good that will come from that.”

Like the doctor at the deposition, you have no answer for that.

You used the phrase more to comfort yourself.

To find meaning in something awful.

To fill a gap in your understanding.

To understand v. 28, we need to remember that this is Paul.

Paul is making an argument that actually starts way back at Chapter 5.

Paul assumes that you have read everything in this letter that precedes v. 28 and would not just pluck it out and use it as a catch phrase for some out of context purpose.

Let’s put it in context.

A very simple summary of Romans 5-8 looks like this:

What God has done in Jesus, and what God continues to do through the Spirit, guarantees that we who believe in the Gospel are assured of our final glorification.

Glorification is when we are finally conformed to the image of Jesus which only happens in the presence of God.

And it is guaranteed because God’s love for us is unshakable.

But until then, life is often messy, dangerous and hard.

Our text today is the conclusion of all that.

What is Paul saying in today’s text?

We are not yet glorified and continue to live in the broken world.

A dangerous place with much pain and suffering.

We want to cry out to God, but we can’t even choke out any words.

We don’t know what to say.

We don’t know what to ask.

But the Spirit knows our pain and so groans our prayers to God who hears and understands.

Why does God not give us relief?

God does.

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary puts it this way:

The intercession spoken of in v. 26 will be heard and answered in ways that, though we cannot at present see them or even conceive them, will turn out to be that which our groaning prayers have been yearning. “All things” … the entire range of experiences and events that may face God’s people … are taken care of by the creator God who is planning to renew the whole creation, and us along with it.

 In other words, God will make all things new and good.

God will not take a tragedy and make something good happen from it.

God takes all things, good and bad, and remakes creation good.

Until that happens, we continue to live in a disordered world that often throws tragedy and suffering into our lives.

Is there comfort here somewhere?

You bet.

Paul says this:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? …

God is for us.

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are inseparable from God’s love.

And God calls all things God loves into God’s presence.

And that includes us.

Of course, the problem with Paul is that his letters don’t easily roll off the tongue while you are standing at a sick friend’s door with a lasagna in your hand.

You want to say something.

Bowler makes some suggestion in an appendix to her book.

I’d love to bring you a meal this week.

Small gifts are good.

But don’t ask your friend to come up with a plan.

They have enough on their minds.

Tell them what you are going to do and just do it.

You are a beautiful person.

Complements go a long way.

Folks need to be told that just because things are bad in their lives, they are not tainted or tarnished.

I want you to know I’m on your team.

You can tell them that no matter what you are praying for them and hoping for the best.

You don’t need to know the details.

You just want to be there for them.

Can I give you a hug?

Touch is important.

It means that you are not afraid of them just because they are sick, and you probably won’t catch what they have anyway.

That must be awful!

Some folks do want to vent, so let them and listen.

Don’t be squeamish when the really bad stuff pours out.

Don’t try to minimize or explain.

You can’t change their minds.

If they think it’s awful, it is.

Say nothing.

Just sit – “show up and shut up”.

I had a friend who died of cancer at age 23.

When I would visit him in the hospital, it was clear that we did not know what to say to each other.

So, he turned on the TV and we watched MASH.

We were just present with each other.

Of course, the Bible does not say any of those things either, but Jesus did and said things like that when caring for folks.

So, what does the Bible say?

That God is for us.

That God is with us.

That God loves us.

Even when life … well … sucks.

And in the end, God will make all things new and good.

Including us.

That’s comforting.

That is what the Bible says.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (September 22, 2019; “The Bible does not say that” series continues.

Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School and author of a book called “Everything Happens for a Reason; And Other Lies I’ve Loved”. Bowler had the life she dreamed of. A job she loved. Married to her high school sweetheart. A long-awaited baby boy. Then she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. The initial prognosis was bleak. The cancer will never be cured and can only be controlled through expensive experimental treatment.

While this was going on, Bowler’s husband was approached by someone who said to him, “Well, everything happens for a reason…” The husband’s response was, “What reason? Please tell me the reason my wife has incurable cancer.” Good question. Why on earth would someone think that the comment about thinks happening for reasons was comforting? Maybe because the Bible says it? God has a reason for everything, right? So, if you get cancer, God has a reason for it? Well, that’s bad theology. The Bible does not say that. One has to look hard to find anything that even sounds like that in the Bible! Perhaps worse, it’s a terrible attempt at comfort.

Does the Bible say anything that helps someone like Bowler deal with the terrible things life throws at us? Come and hear about it this week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches: “Everything Happens for a Reason? Really?” based on Romans 8: 26-39. See you then!!

God Hates Sinners? Really? Thoughts on What the Bible Really Says About God’s Redeeming and Reconciling Love. September 15, 2019

God Hates Sinners! Really?

Jeff: One of the most memorable things I experienced as a pastor was in April of 2011.

It is not often that I walk into the church office and find a parishioner reading Time magazine, and then have the parishioner look up and growl at me, “Have you read this?”

She then thrust out the magazine.

It was opened to an article entitled, “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist?”

I said I had not read it yet and she growled again, “You need to read it and we need to talk about it.”

The article was about Evangelical and Mega-Church Pastor Rob Bell and his just published book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

So, I read the article and then I read the book.

I will summarize Bell’s book simply.

God did not create a place called hell.

We did that when we rejected God.

Hell is a place where God is not, because we don’t invite God there.

When we reject God, if we go to the place where God is not, we are immediately in hell.

But hell is not forever.

God would not consign someone into eternal torment as punishment for mistakes made or evil conduct during one single lifetime.

We stay there only until we accept God’s invitation into God’s reconciling love.

When we let God into our lives.

Then we are in God’s Kingdom.

This will happen to “Every Person Who Ever Lived” (as Bell puts it), because God is love.

And, as Bell puts it, love wins.

Because my parishioner said, “we need to talk about this,” I decided the issue was controversial enough to have a congregation wide book review and discussion.

It was well attended.

The session went on for a couple hours and I’m not sure anyone was satisfied.

What the Bible says about God’s approach to sin and sinners and whether there is an eternal hell are huge topics and could take days to cover completely.

Each can support a sermon series or Bible study on their own.

Two hours was not enough.

Neither will these twenty minutes.

Back to the church meeting.

Here are some of the comments.

“Of course, there is a hell! That’s where sinners go!”

“God hates sin and so hates sinners!”

“If there is no hell, what is the incentive to not sin?”

“If there is no hell, what is the need to believe in Jesus?”

These comments did not surprise me.

Many people really wanted hell to be real because they have a list of folks they want to go there or who are already there.

This was no surprise.

It reminded me of a woman I knew who would write the names of those folks she “did not like” on pieces of paper and put the paper in the freezer.

It was some kind of curse, I think.

She did not want those folks to burn I guess, but to freeze.

And when we think that way, we assume God agrees with us.

Matt: Wait a minute!

I have the same questions as the folks at the other church.

They weren’t projecting anything on God.

Hell is real and God sends sinners there because God hates sin and so he hates sinners.

The Bible clearly says that!

That’s what Jesus means when he teaches that some folks get cast into the outer darkness and into eternal fire.

God hates sinners so much that God consigns them to eternal punishment!

You have to hate someone to do that, right?

Haven’t you read Johnathon Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?”

…[M]en are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger [is] towards them …

And so … in they go!

Jeff: Well we can always cherry pick Bible verses to say what we want them to say, and Edwards might have said that God hates sinners, and certainly many others do as well, but the Bible doesn’t.

I like the way Karl Barth talks about it.

Should teaching about hell be part of the proclamation of the gospel? No! No! No! The proclamation of the gospel means the proclamation that Christ has overcome hell, that Christ has suffered hell in our place, and that we are allowed to live with him and so have hell behind us.There it is, but behind us! … Don’t fear hell, believe in God! Believe in Christ!

Take that Jonathan Edwards!

Let’s take a look at what the Bible does say about sin and sinners.

The Bible has more of a “hate the sin, love the sinner” emphasis, but even that meme can be tricky because we need to understand what the word “sin” means before we can decide if God hates sinner and/or sin.

The word “sin” comes from the Hebrew word hata, which means “to go astray.”

Jewish law provides the proper “way” (or path) to live.

Sin is when we stray from that path.

Who hasn’t done that?

The Greek word translated as “sin” is hamartia.

It means “to miss the mark”.

Literally to miss the target.

Our target is to live the way God would have us live.

Sin is when we miss the target.

Who hasn’t done that?

Does God hate us for wandering off the path?

Does God hate us when we miss the target?

Here is a text from the Bible that seems to say no.

Mark 2: 13-17

13 Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

If God hates sinners, Jesus has a strange way of showing it in this Gospel text.

Look at what is going on here.

Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to be his disciple.

Jesus does not require anything from Levi other than that he follow Jesus.

Levi does and then throws a party to celebrate.

Present at the party, along with Jesus, are other tax collectors and sinners.

All this is observed by the righteous Pharisees who are stunned that Jesus would hang out with such folks.

What don’t the Pharisees like about these people?

They are not people of God, and certainly don’t follow the Jewish law.

First, as a tax collector, Levi is an abomination to the Jewish community, a traitor, a thief, an outcast.

Tax collectors are so vile that they are excommunicated from their synagogues and not even allowed to be a witness in a Jewish court.

To his community, Levi, and his entire family, are a disgrace!

They are … well … hated by the Pharisees who believe God hates them, too.

Then there were the “sinners” at the party.

These are a class of people who were regarded as inferior by the Pharisees because they showed no interest in following Jewish law.

They were more concerned with food, housing, and clothing for the family than trying to observe religious traditions.

We might call them “spiritual but not religious”.

These folks were considered outcasts, too.

They were … well … also hated by the Pharisees who believed God also hated them, too.

But here was Jesus hanging out with them.

Calling this tax collector to be one of his disciples.

To live the Jesus way.

To get back on the path.

To hit the target.

To come into the Kingdom of God.

This sounds a lot more like love than hate.

It reminds me of a story I have shared before.

Dr. Craig Barnes is President of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Dr. Barnes’ father was a pastor in an inner-city church.

Roger was a boy whose family attended that church.

Roger’s parents were both drug addicts and died of overdoses within days of each other.

Rev. Barnes decided to adopt Roger.

Rev. Barnes told his family that Roger was now part of the Barnes family and was to be treated as such.

But Roger was a disruptive child.

He did not always follow the Barnes family rules.

Roger would grab at food.

He was told, “No Roger we don’t do that here! We ask and wait our turn.”

Roger would run from the table after eating.

He was told, “No Roger we don’t do that here! We clear the table and do the dishes.”

Roger would throw tantrums sometimes when the rules lessons were not to his liking.

He was told, “No Roger we don’t do that here! We don’t yell or raise our voices.”

Roger would use colorful language.

He was told, “No Roger we don’t do that here! We never use those kinds of words.”

It took time, but ultimately Roger learned what it meant to be part of the Barnes family.

What is interesting about that story is that Roger was never told that if he didn’t change, he would be cast out of the Barnes family.

He was loved.

Even when he screwed up.

I have always liked that story.

Why?

Because it is a good example of the way God deals with us!

We are adopted into God’s family, but we don’t always follow the rules.

But no matter how many times we screw up, we are never told that we risk being cast out of the family.

We are loved.

Even when we are sinners.

How do I know this?

Well, Jesus tells us in our text that he came to heal sinners.

To heal them.

Not because they are evil, but because they are sick.

And then Paul tells us this in his letter to the Romans:

… God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

God loves us when we are sinners?

That’s what the Bible says.

Matt: OK Pastor Jeff, I see your point, but God hates the sin, right?

That’s something else we hear often, right?

Love the sinner, hate the sin?

Jeff: OK Matt, that sounds good, but where is that in the Bible?

I’m pretty sure the Bible supports the view that God would prefer we not sin.

But does God hate sin?

Does the Bible say God hates it when we miss the mark or stray from the path?

I don’t read it that way.

I think the Bible says that God is more focused on going and getting us back on the right path.

Teaching us to hit the target.

Our text today is a good example.

There are lots more.

Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners.

Prostitutes.

Tax collectors.

Thieves.

Adulterers.

You name it.

Whenever Jesus talked to them about their lives, he did not tell them that he hated what they were doing.

Jesus did not tell them that if they kept it up, they would go to hell.

Jesus calls them to follow him.

Follow him into the Kingdom.

Then Jesus tells them they are forgiven.

Forgiveness is the focus.

Not hate.

Love.

And what about those folks who don’t believe?

Does God hate them?

I don’t think so.

I think the Bible says God continues to search for them.

This all reminds me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

We all know the story.

A man has two sons.

One treats his father as if he were dead and runs off with his inheritance to the big city.

Despite this son’s incredible disrespect, the father leaves the door open for the boy’s return.

When he does return, the father celebrates.

That doesn’t sound like hate to me.

That sounds like love.

That is God’s love for even those who would think God dead, or non-existent.

Come when you are convinced, and you are welcome.

But there is a second son in this parable.

The one who did not leave but remained loyal.

What is his story?

Luke 15

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

When we say, “God hates sinners”, we are acting like the elder son.

We don’t want to let the sinner into the Kingdom.

We want the sinner to suffer.

To remain and outcast.

To be hated.

To go to hell.

And we assume God agrees.

But God wants what the father in the parable wants.

For the wayward child to come home.

To accept the father’s love.

That is what this parable teaches.

God is love and God will love.

God doesn’t hate sinners.

God calls sinners into his kingdom.

God calls sinners to come home.

That is what the Bible says.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: September 15, 2019; “The Bible Doesn’t Say That” series continues.

I am a big fan of Audible books. I have been listening to a book series by Alexander Kane called “Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for Ultrahuman Protection” (CUP). CUP employs superheroes and contracts with communities to provide crime protection. The superheroes are an eclectic bunch with strange and quirky superpowers. One of the superheroes is called “Inspector Well Actually”. His superpower is that he knows just about everything. But he can only provide his vast information in response to someone’s misstatement of facts. If someone misstates a fact, the inspector responds, “Well actually …” and then corrects the misstatement with the genuine facts. One might call his superpower “mansplaining” but he does this to men and women alike. This superpower is helpful but because Inspector Well Actually can’t stop himself, he can be incredibly annoying and often must be banished from casual conversation. Inspector Well Actually is my favorite character.  He comes to mind as I think about our “The Bible Doesn’t Say That” series. It sounds like I am responding to those who say the Bible says something it doesn’t with “Well actually … it doesn’t.” This week we address the common belief that the Bible says, “God hates sinners”. Well actually … it doesn’t. In fact, the Bible says something entirely different. What does it say? Come and hear when Pastor Jeff preaches, “God Hates Sinners? Really?” based on Mark 2: 13-17. If you are a sinner (and who isn’t?) come and get some comfort at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We will look forward to seeing you.

God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle? Really? Thoughts on what the Bible does not say.

God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle? Really?

Jeff: Every year in the United States we celebrate the birth of our nation.

Independence Day!

And when do we celebrate?

The 4th of July!

My family celebrates in Edinboro, PA where there is a bike parade, swim races, food trucks and fireworks.

Always on the 4th.

And why shouldn’t we?

That was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, right?

Well, not really.

The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and given to the Continental Congress on July 1.

It was discussed and amended and ratified on July 2.

It was not actually signed by anyone until August 2, though five delegates signed it on a later date and two never signed it at all.

Sam Adams, one of the delegates, thought the date to celebrate should be July 2.

The reason we celebrate on the 4th is simply because the signed copy bears that date.

But we don’t care.

Try and tell someone that we have the date wrong and they will think you are nuts!

We like the 4th of July and that’s that!

Don’t spoil it with historical details.

And that’s just a national holiday.

What do we do when someone says the Bible does not say what we think it says?

I mean, trying to tell someone that a well-loved Bible saying is not really in the Bible is at all not well received.

Folks will fight with you on that tooth and nail.

The hold on tight to those beloved Bible memes they can repeat or post or tweet or whatever when they think someone needs to hear something “inspirational” from the Bible.

Not only do you risk ridicule, you might be called a heretic or worse, a purveyor of “fake news”.

Nevertheless, at the risk of accusations of heresy or the purveying of fake news, we will be talking, over the next few weeks, about things we think the Bible says, but in reality doesn’t.

And today we start with this well-loved Bible saying:

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Who here has not heard that?

Or said that?

Well, as nice as that sounds, and as often as we hear it as a form of encouragement, the Bible simply does not say it.

Matt: Wait a minute Pastor Jeff.

Sure, it does.

I tell folks that who are going thorough difficult times in their lives all the time!

1 Corinthians 10: 13.

Jeff: Really?

What do you say?

Matt: I tell them that no matter how bad things are in their lives, God will not give them more than they can handle.

Jeff: Let’s assume for a moment the Bible says that, do you think these suffering people find that … helpful?

Matt: Sure!

They should be inspired!

Jeff: Really?

Do they like the idea that God has given them these things they need to handle?

That does not seem comforting.

And what does “handle” mean?

Does that mean that they should be able to “buck up” with a “stiff upper lip” despite their current troubles or tragedies?

Do they say, “Thanks, Matt. I can get through it now because of what you said.”

And what if they can’t handle it?

Does that mean God just does not care about them?

What do they do then?

Where is their inspiration?

Where is their encouragement?

Where is their hope?

Matt: I don’t really know about that but I do know that the Bible says it so it must be true.

Jeff: Well, let’s take a look at where we find that verse you cited.

It comes from:

1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

10I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Matt: Yeah!

That last verse.

That’s what I said the Bible said.

God won’t give us more than we can handle.

Jeff: But that is not what this passage means.

What you have done is taken the verse out of context.

If we put it in context, it says something very different.

It says God will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength.

It does not say God tempts us.

Life does that.

What does Paul mean by “tested”?

It has nothing to do with burdens and life’s troubles.

It’s about temptation.

Temptation to idolatry.

Let’s take a look at the entire context of verse 13.

1 Corinthians 10: 1-22 is directed to a group of Christians who are participating in some kind of a celebration of an idol.

Paul likens this to the idolatry practiced by the Israelites in the wilderness that caused them to suffer greatly and that resulted in many deaths to “the people of God”.

This was so even though the Israelites had been “baptized” through the waters of the Red Sea and “spiritually fed” in the form of Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

Despite these blessings, the Israelites rejected God, and many died, even though they understood they had been chosen as the people of God.

Paul then warns the Corinthians that they are heading in that same direction.

While God has invited them into God’s Kingdom and given them the sacraments, they continue to turn away and worship idols.

They have the strength to overcome these temptations, but they choose not to.

That’s what the Israelites did and look what happened to most of them!

Then comes our famous misquote:

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Paul does not say God won’t allow us to be tempted or tested.

God assumes we will.

Paul says that God gives us the strength to overcome temptation.

It is up to us to choose to do it.

Paul says the sacraments show us the “way out” of faith trials and temptations.

They show us the right choices.

They are our reminders of who God is and what God has done and so we can choose to turn away from idols.

Period.

End of lesson.

So, verse 13 has nothing whatsoever to do with the unbearable burdens and challenges that life throws at us.

In fact, the Bible says something quite different.

Remember what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Jesus went to pray just before his arrest.

He told Peter, James and John:

‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’

Then, he prayed by himself:

‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

Simply put, Jesus was saying that he could not handle what was coming.

Then, later on the cross, Jesus recited Psalm 22:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
   and by night, but find no rest.

So, Jesus was suffering.

He could not bear it.

Jesus felt abandoned, forsaken.

What if Peter said to Jesus, “Cheer up! God won’t give you more than you can handle”?

Do we think Jesus would have been comforted?

I don’t.

He’s hanging on a cross!

And while none of us have ever hung on a cross, sometimes we do feel abandoned and forsaken.

At those times how do we react when someone says to us:

“God won’t give you more than you can handle?”

What do we do with that?

How does that inspire us?

How does that encourage us?

To say that God gives you the strength to bear the unbearable makes it sound like God is some sort of a divine anti-depressant or heavenly pain killer.

If we don’t feel any better, is God ignoring us?

We ask:

“If God can get me through this, why doesn’t God do it?”

Does the divine anti-depressant not work?

Is the heavenly pain killer not strong enough?

Do we need to change medications?

Do we need to change God’s?

I like what Michael Hidalgo, Lead Pastor at Denver Community Church, says:

Recently, I was going back through my journals and I read words I had written years before: “God, I can’t handle this anymore. I don’t know what to do, but I can’t do this.” The circumstances in my life had become overwhelming, everything was crumbling, and my world was falling apart. To be honest, if someone had come alongside me at that point and tried to reassure me by saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” I may have punched them square in the face. That tired, old phrase often sounds more like a taunt than a comfort. When we are down and out and feeling discouraged, hearing those words can cause us to feel like we are not measuring up. It causes us to ask, “If I am supposed to handle this, then why can’t I handle it?” The truth is, God never said He wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. There will be times in life when you will feel like you are drowning and there is no one to help you. The words that are meant for encouragement can often serve to only create discouragement. 

That is certainly true, isn’t it?

That’s why I’m a bit relieved that the Bible does not say that.

So, if the Bible does not say God won’t give us more than we can handle, what does the Bible say God promises in the hard times?

Listen to the second part of Psalm 22.

3 Yet you are holy,
   enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
   they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
   in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

Despite the fact that life on earth often does give us more than we can handle, Jesus says that we, like those who have come before us, can still trust God, be delivered and not put to shame.

That is what the Bible does say.

So, if we aren’t supposed to tell folks that God won’t give them more than they can handle, what do we say?

Tell them this.

God is holy,
   enthroned on the praises of God’s people.
In God our ancestors trusted;
   they trusted, and God delivered them.
To God they cried, and were saved;
   in God they trusted, and were not put to shame.

Tell them there is reason for hope.

Or maybe say nothing.

Maybe we just sit with them, hold their hand and let them vent.

That’s what I do a lot with folks who are troubled.

Just be present.

Listen.

That is what God promises to do.

God promises to be present.

To listen.

To deliver.

And to save.

That is why Paul can say this:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Not so God won’t give us more than we can handle.

 7[So that] the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That is what the Bible does say!

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (September 8) Week 1 of “the Bible doesn’t say that” sermon series.

When I was a young lad, I was told a story about George Washington that I believed to be the absolute truth. I am sure you heard the story as well. When Washington was six years old, his father gave him a hatchet. Washington immediately went out and used the hatchet to cut down one of his father’s prize cherry trees. When the elder Washington confronted young George, the boy admitted to the deed saying, “I cannot tell a lie, I did it.” The elder Washington embraced young George exclaiming that his son’s honesty was worth the loss of a thousand cherry trees. The message of the story? Honesty is a great virtue and George Washington was honest. Here is the problem. The story is entirely made up. It simply did not happen. It was invented by Washington’s first biographer, an itinerant minister and bookseller named Mason Locke Weems, who said this: “Washington you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him…My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute…I then go on to show that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.” In other words, make up interesting stories. When I first realized that the cherry tree story was not true, I was irritated. I loved that story and did not want to give it up! So, I just didn’t. I held on to it as truth as long as I could because I liked it and it was a great morality tale. Do you know stories like that? A story that you assume to be the absolute truth only to late find out that the story is fiction. It can be very disheartening.

This is also what happens when you are taught something that “the Bible says” but later find out that the Bible does not say it. Such a thing can be painful. You have believed that the Bible says something that is the basis of one of your life’s important lessons, and then find out it is not in the Bible at all. What do you do with that? Come Sunday September 8, to John McMillan Presbyterian Church and learn about things you might have thought the Bible says but doesn’t. First up? God won’t give you more than you can handle. The Bible does not say that. So, what does the Bible say about such things? Come Sunday at 8:30 and 11 and Pastor Jeff will tell you. See you then.