Paramedics are taught not to risk their lives after mass shootings. Rightly so.

2000px-star_of_life2-svgI became a paramedic to provide medical care out of a hospital setting to the sick and injured. I, for the most part, enjoyed my career and I was able to even save a few lives along the way. One of the things I discovered early on in my career was that a large part of being an EMT or paramedic is about making some kind of connection with the patient and/or their family. Sometimes this means holding the hand of the elderly lady who you just picked up off their bathroom floor after she fell and broke her hip. Sometimes this means listening, truly listening, to the young guy who has reached rock bottom and wants to kill himself because he feels that no one cares. And sometimes it means talking to the gang member who just got the everlasting crap beaten out of him over a girl he asked out on a date who, unbeknownst to him, was attached to a member of a rival gang.

I’ve ran many calls like the ones above in the eight years that I have worked in EMS. The last scenario in particular stands out because this guy made it clear that he was not talking to anyone because he was going to get his revenge as soon as he was out of the hospital. He refused to tell the police anything. Once in my ambulance after I completed an assessment and treatment which I could provide, I began to talk to him. At first he wouldn’t even talk to me because, as he put it, “you work with the pigs (his words, not mine).” I pointed out that I was unarmed, didn’t even have a ballistic vest, and that I was not a cop. After a few moments he did begin opening up to me about what happened. I talked to him about letting it go and allowing the cycle of violence to stop with him, how beating the other guy up was not going to solve anything and how at the end of it all he could possibly be dead. Perhaps he listened to me. Perhaps not. I will never know. But one thing is for sure: If I had presented myself as an authority figure by acting like “Billy B.A.” like so many in EMS do, I may not have had the opportunity to reach out to this kid.

From that experience alone, I make a case for why EMS providers should not be armed or otherwise regularly take on the role of a combat medic. We are not authority figures contrary to what many of us think. Those of us working the streets for Someplace County EMS are not combat medics in need of tactical gear. When we work for AMR as contractors for a hospital or nursing home we have no need for a duty belt with a side arm, extra ammo, and cuffs. Certainly, a SWAT medic does need these things from time to time but for the 99% of us who will never attend an active swat raid, we simply do not need those things.

Presenting ourselves as no different than the police serves no real purpose, gives people more reasons to distrust us, and paints and even bigger bull’s eye on our backs than are already there.

A former medic turned writer for the CBS show “Code Black” (I will reserve my opinion on this show except to say that I’ve watched one episode and don’t plan to watch another) thinks differently. The Washington Post published an opinion piece written by Kevin Hazzard where he lays out a ridiculous case for EMS providers regularly being placed in harm’s way. In case you want to go ahead and know how I feel, Mr. Hazzard is way off base and is advocating for things which only work in Hollywood shows and movies.

I will respond directly to some of Mr. Hazzard’s statements.

I was a paramedic for nearly 10 years. In that time, my job certainly put me in danger’s way; like many of my co-workers, I believed that saving a patient’s life was worth losing my own.

Nonsense. I know not one EMS provider, not a single one (including and especially myself), who would die for a patient. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard didn’t care about going home at the end of the shift but the rest of us do. The reasons for one going into EMS are varied but I can assure you that dying for a patient is not on the list or reasons for the vast majority. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard needs to remember the part in EMT class where one is taught that if the provider is hurt, they are no good to anyone. When this situation occurs, further strain is put on the system by forcing someone else to care for the patient and for the injured EMS worker because they felt the need to play GI Joe.

Mr. Hazzard, if you’re indeed interested in risking your life in such manners, the military are always recruiting medics.

In many cases, people died while waiting for help that was just outside the door. Patients treated within 60 minutes of an injury — the “golden hour,” in emergency-medicine parlance — have the best chance of survival.

This is barely worthy of a response, as the notion of the so-called “Golden Hour” has been debunked again and again by this thing that so many EMS providers seem afraid of called science. This statement was never based on anything other than some surgeon’s slick marketing phrase for a tack-on certification. If someone is going to bleed out from traumatic injuries, I can assure you that it will likely happen in much less time than the “golden hour.”

Imagine if paramedics had entered the Pulse nightclub and started treating patients immediately. Imagine medics in flak jackets and helmets, surrounded by police assault rifles, setting about the critical work of saving lives right there on the dance floor. Would more people have survived if EMS had been able to treat patients sooner? The answer is almost certainly yes.

Any EMT or medic with any kind of knowledge and experience (and any other person with knowledge of traumatic injuries) knows this simply is not true. An uncomfortable fact: When one sustains multiple significant injuries from a high-powered assault riffle, they likely will die. Again, the notion of a “golden hour” is hogwash. Besides, what good does sending EMS providers into an active shooting scene do Shooting victims can be somewhat stabilized by EMS but, at the end of the day, they need a surgeon (and sometimes even that isn’t enough). Last time I checked, a thoracotomy was not in my scope of practice and I doubt it is in any other medic’s either.

If I have not made it obvious enough, I could not disagree with Mr. Hazzard any more if I had to. He’s wrong, ignorant, and needs to understand that such notions are dangerous. The image of a medic arriving at an active shooting scene and, without regard to himself or his family, running in to drag a victim out makes for a good TV show but in practice it’s not quite that simple and not worth the risk to the provider’s safety.

I believe Mr. Hazzard is getting Hollywood and the real world mixed up.

Take my advice, sir: Stick to Hollywood. Your fantasies should only exist there.

(Some edits made after publication for clarity and correction of typos)

Sermon – Half Truths: God Won’t Give You More than You Can Handle

Continuing the series based on Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths, today I talked about the popular platitude that suggests that God will shield us from more life drama than we can handle. Anyone who has ever had a nervous breakdown knows that this isn’t true. While I didn’t outright address it in the course of the sermon, mental health issues are often looked at as a lack of faith or a sign of sin in one’s life. I want to emphasize that this is not true! Our problems don’t come from God. I hope you will receive a blessing from this sermon and know the way that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is often understood is not quite accurate. A note: I spend some time talking about my battle with anxiety and depression so be warned.

Half Truths: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
August 28h, 2016

1 Corinthians 10:1-14 (NLT)
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, 7 or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.

9 Nor should we put Christ  to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 11 These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I have heard this statement many times and I’m sure we have all said this statement at some point in our lives. One of the times I can recall most vividly hearing this phrase was about ten years ago. I was living in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I was working for one of the radio stations in town. The station wasn’t doing great. Advertising was down and some tough decisions had to be made by the management of the company that owned the station. Unfortunately, the status of my employment was one of the hard decisions which was made. I went home and tried to process everything that had occurred. I had lost a job that I mostly loved, lost the opportunity to work with people who I considered my family away from home and I was also faced with the reality that I had bills to pay. Obviously I was uncertain and upset.

I finally reached out to the leader of the small group that I was part of through the church I was attending at the time. Mike was fairly wise and I trusted him to give me advice. I left a voicemail and eventually he called me back to hear the story. After he offered to pray for me and my situation, which he did. And as he was about to hang up he sprang the Half Truth on me: “Remember that God will never give you more than you can handle.” I tried to remember Mike’s words as things progressed. I soon found another job and eventually I ended up moving back to Mississippi where I was so stressed by a lot of things that I had a mental breakdown. I was overloaded and simply could not cope. When this occurred Mike’s words seemed like utter hogwash.

Obviously these words are said with good intent. But in that instance, I found out the hard way that this Half Truth simply did not stand up to the practical test. I had more on my plate than I could handle. My ability to cope with everything going on at the time, both tangibly and mentally, were just too much for me to handle and I hit my psychological and spiritual rock bottom. There was a part of me that blamed God because I felt like He was punishing me because, in my mind, he had broken a promise made in scripture. I had more than I could handle and it took me a while to recover from my issues, my anger, and my crisis of faith which happened on top of everything else. I was a mess, a hot mess at that.

We want to think that nothing bad will ever happen to us or that we will never have more stress on us than we could conceivably handle. To state it simply, the idea that God will shield us from more trouble, stress, or drama than we can handle just is not true. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is often cited as the basis for the idea that God will somehow not allow us to be stressed out beyond what we can cope with. A plain reading of the scripture, however, does not reveal such a saying. This passage is not even dealing with everyday stress – more on on that in a moment. I will daresay that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood verses in the entire Bible. It’s one of those verses that we might think says one thing but really says another. This is also an example of how cherry picking scripture without regard to context is simply a poor way to read God’s word.

I think it’s safe to say that every single one of us have experienced times in our lives when we felt that the world was caving in all around us. We have all experienced times when we could not handle one more thing on our plates or we might just snap. I have some good news for you if you have ever felt that way: You’re not alone. Life teaches us that things are going to come at us, sometimes one thing after another, and that we will indeed, at some point, have more on us than we can handle. Such is part of the human condition. As I have mentioned before our troubles do not come from God. Let me say that again: The bad stuff in life, whether we’re talking about a major tragedy or even the everyday stresses of life, do not come from God. God does not give us troubles. But what he does is be present in those moments, ready to comfort, provide mercy, and healing to our souls. He loves us that much and he wants us to cling to him.

So what is it that Paul is talking about and what is the truth behind this Half Truth? Borrowing heavily from Adam Hamilton’s book Half Truths in addition to my own study, I will explore that.

The short version of the story is this: Paul is talking about temptation to sin, not about sparing us from stress. Paul was on one of his missionary journeys when he established Christianity in the Roman city of Corinth around 51 AD. Today we call Las Vegas “Sin City” but I would argue that Corinth is the original sin city. If you were a citizen of Corinth during this time and you went to buy meat, you may likely be eating meat from an animal which was sacrificed at one of the numerous pagan temples around the city. While some cities have a gas station or a Starbucks on every corner, Corinth had pagan temples on every corner. Within the walls of the temples occurred pagan worship. What we would call sexual immorality was one of the ways in which the Corinthian pagans worshiped and this even occurred within the walls of the temples. The reputation of the Corinthians was so pervasive that if someone was considered to be fast and loose with their morals they were said to be “living like a Corinthian.”

The new Christians of Corinth were trying to overcome these old habits but, as the old saying goes, old habits die hard. The temptation to give in to these pagan ways were literally everywhere they went. The could not escape the pagan temples because there were so many. They could not escape the temptations of the pagan ways because this was also all around them. By using the struggle of the ancient Israelites as an example, Paul was reminding the Corinthian Christians that their giving in to these temptations had spiritual and moral consequences. And then he states in verse 13, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Paul was giving the Corinthians encouragement and a good reminder that sin has consequences. He gave them an example of their spiritual ancestors (remember that he was dealing with mostly Gentiles). He was also reminding them that when God sees that we are tempted to commit some kind of sinful act, he will give us a way out even if it’s reminding us of who we are and whose we are. Do we always make the choice to take the way out and therefore not sin? Of course not! But it’s there and God provides it.

Paul was not saying that God tempts us but only a little bit, he was saying that God provides us a way out of the situation when we are tempted. But here’s what we really need to know about this verse of scripture: Paul was also not saying that God will not allow us to have more stress, chaos, and tragedy than we can handle. Unfortunately, these things will happen. But here is what we can count on from God: He will be present in the stress, chaos, and tragedy. He will be ready to provide relief. He will be with us through the storm. One of the things Paul is emphasizing here is not our human will prevailing but instead of God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to us in the midst of life.

Dr. Ben Witherington, a prolific author, theologian, and professor of New Testament at Asbury uses this phrase a lot and, as I like it, I do too: “A text without a context is merely a pretext for whatever you want it to be.” This is the case in 1 Corinthians 10:13. When we pick and choose bible verses and try to make them fit an idea that we have about God or perhaps just an idea that we like because it sounds nice, we miss the greater message of God’s word. We really do a disservice to ourselves and to our discipleship when we take what we consider to be the best parts and leave the rest. The result is a Half Truth.

Unfortunately, God does not promise that he won’t allow us to have more from life than we can handle. God does, however, promise that he is with us. When someone is struggling, I want us to remember that God is with them and us. Perhaps next time we want to use this Half Truth we can say something like, “God has not give this trouble to you but he is with you and loves you. And so do I.” Let’s turn this Half Truth into a whole truth. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.

Sermon – Half Truths: “God Helps Those who Help Themselves”

Here is part two in the Half Truths series. Yesterday we looked at this popular saying, which many people are convinced is in the Bible. Spoiler alert: It isn’t! But, this does not mean that it doesn’t have an element of truth. As you will see, we are called to take some responsibility for our lives and not to just simply wait around for God to do something. Often God does things through us and through other people. Christians are people of action, not of sitting around and waiting for something to happen. I hope you gain some meaningful insight from this sermon. As always, feel free to leave any feedback you would like. A note: There is a portion where I quote from a scene from “The Help.” I chose to play the clip of the scene for the congregation. If you would like to watch it for yourself, you may click here. – Jonathan

Half Truths: “God Helps Those who Help Themselves”
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
August 21, 2016

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (NLT)
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers[c] who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received[d] from us. 7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. 8 We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. 10 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

11 Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. 12 We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. 13 As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.

A while back I was watching one of the TV news shows and they were polling people about things that are in the Bible. They would read something that either was or was not in the Bible and the person had to answer true if it was in the Bible and false if it was not. Out of five people the interviewer read “God helps those who help themselves” to, four answered true, indicating they believed it was in the Bible. Let’s do a show of hands: If you believe this saying is in the Bible, raise your hand… Ok, now if it’s not in the Bible, raise your hand.

If you guessed that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible, you’re correct. To say that this saying is in the bible is completely false because it appears nowhere in the scriptures. It does sound kind of biblical though, doesn’t it? It’s not unusual that when we hear a saying like this and especially when it catches on and becomes popular, we like to think it has some authority behind it. This is exactly what happened with this saying. The Greek philosopher Aesop was the one who coined, “The gods help those who help themselves.” About 2300 years later, Benjamin Franklin appropriated it and changed it “God helps those who helps themselves” when he published Poor Richard’s Almanac. The expression became widely popular and eventually people began believing that it was found in scripture.

While the saying is not found anywhere in scripture, this is one of the sayings that we will look at which I believe does have some truth to it. Let’s explore some ways that this saying does have some truth to it:

Adam Hamilton gives several examples in his book Half Truths: Hamilton states when he says grace before a meal he thanks God for giving us a planet where such bounty can grow and survive, he thanks God for the farmers who grew the vegetables or raised the animals, the people who harvested and processed it, and even the truck drivers who delivered it to the store. If one of those components was not there, we would not be able to go to the store and buy our food. Because they did their part and we did ours by obtaining money with which to go buy food and actually took the time to go to the store and cooked it, we’re able to eat a delicious meal.

Another example would be with employment: It’s alright to pray that God gives you guidance as to a job you should apply for. However, it’s not going to likely be very productive if you just stop there. Without building a resume, filling out applications, going to interviews, you’re going to have a hard time finding a job. God will certainly give us guidance if we ask him to but he also expects us to not just sit around and let him do all the work. We have to take some ownership of our situations and we have to take some action. Otherwise, all the prayer in the world is not going to do us any good. Prayer is certainly talking to God but it is also listening. And when we pray, we also have to be prepared to move and to act. This is God helping us.

While I do not believe that God’s help comes with strings attached, I do believe that God does not call us to simply wait on him to do a miracle. As I mentioned a moment ago, Christians are not called to just simply sit and wait for God to do something, we are called to accept some responsibility for what happens to us.

When Paul started the church at Thessalonika, he taught the converts there that they should trust Jesus and trust that he would return someday, possibly even soon. Paul eventually left but apparently some of the converts took Paul’s telling them to “trust Jesus” a little too literally. Eventually word reached Paul that many of them had actually quit their jobs with the idea that God would just provide for all of their needs without their needing to work. This is why Paul wrote the scripture we had above, because he wanted to be clear that trusting Jesus did not mean quitting our jobs and waiting for manna and money to appear out of the sky. In other words, Paul was wanting them to exercise their common sense. Yes, God will provide and he will send help. However, this does not free us from the responsibility of doing our part for securing our provision.

Perhaps you heard the story of the man who was caught in a flood. The waters were getting deeper and deeper, inching closer and closer to his house. He had ignored the pleas from the media and others to evacuate before the waters because he was convinced that God would help him. The flood waters were up to his porch and some men on a boat came by and offered to take him out of there. “No, I’m not leaving. God will help me.” They pleaded with him and he continued to refuse so they left. Soon, the water had gotten much higher and driven him to the roof of his house. A helicopter searching for victims flew overhead. The crew saw him and lowered a rope, shouting on the loudspeaker, “Grab the rope and we will pull you in!” Again, the man refused. “God will help me.” The helicopter left and soon the man was overcome by the water and died. When he appeared before God the man was upset “God, why didn’t you help me?” God looked at him and said, “Son, I sent you a boat and a helicopter with a rope dangling from it. What more did you want?”

We must help ourselves, at least to some extent. God did not call us to be robots who just wait for a push and a shove toward something or to be told to do something. God expects us to be able to idenity our needs and to accept his guidance for how he intends to provide for them. The man in the flood example was expecting God to perform some type of miracle which would save him from his plight. Perhaps the reason he did not accept the help that was given was because he had a misconception about how God works. Perhaps he wanted a solution to where God would come down in a cloud and restore everything to the way it was, his home, his stuff still intact. Instead, God sent help in the form of a boat and a helicopter with a rope which would mean that he would lost his stuff but still have his life. Because he did not help himself with the help offered to him, he lost his life.

God’s help does not always come in the form of a big miraculous spectacle that is the lead story on CNN. Often, God’s help is found in subtle ways, often in ways that we never expected. God often uses other people in order to help us and we see this time and time again in scripture with God using people in the course of his work. The biggest example I can think of is medical providers. There are some very wonderful and well meaning believers who think that God’s healing only comes from him, that doctors and other medical professionals are not necessary because God will heal. I believe that God’s healing is done through doctors, nurses, and countless other types of medical providers. The knowledge of the human body and the know how to figure out which treatments will work or others that can be tried if one fails is nothing short of astonishing. I believe God works his healing through their hands. But in order to receive it, we have to do our part and go to that clinic or to the hospital in order to be healed. In this sense, we have to help ourselves.

So far we have spent our time this morning talking about how the idea that God helps those who help themselves has some truth to it. But not I want to shift gears and talk about how this saying is untrue. To give away this part of the sermon: It’s often used to justify abuse of the poor.

Our scripture from 2 Thessalonians 3 is often used to justify not helping the poor, particularly verse 10 where Paul writes, “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Let’s say you’re down on your luck. You have tried all you can do. You’re starving. Your family is starving. You go to your best friend and ask for help. Instead of helping, your friend simply tells you, “No. God helps those who help themselves. And remember what Paul said about not working and not eating? That’s you.” Those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ know that this simply is not acceptable. Even in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, there was instruction for people to leave part of their fields unharvested so that the poor could glean from them for their survival. On and on in scripture we see instruction to help the poor, how the poor have a special place in God’s heart.

When we apply “God helps those who help themselves” in this manner, we are shrugging off the responsibility that we have been given to care for the poor in our midst. We are called to show compassion. I recall a scene from The Help in which Yule May is talking with the family she works for and is asking for a loan of $75 so that she can send both of her twin sons to college for the upcoming school year. The lady she works for, Hilly, is particularly mean. She listens to Yule May’s request and replies like this: “As a Christian, I’m doin’ you a favor. God doesn’t give charity to those who are well and able. You need to come up with this money on your own.” Hilly had an opportunity to show compassion and to help two young men start on a path to a better life but, instead, she invoked “God helps those who help themselves” as a way of using God as justification for not helping.

Later on in the movie, the main character Skeeter who has written a book based on the stories of the African American housekeepers working for Caucasian families in Jackson, Mississippi receives her royalty check. She chooses to split the money between all of the housekeepers in appreciation for their stories and for their help in writing her book. She did not have to do this but she chose to and the housekeepers were grateful to receive this blessing.

God does indeed help everyone. We do bear a certain responsibility for our own lives but God will show us a way. The rub is, we have to be willing to take it. And likewise, we are called to have compassion and be a blessing to those who need a little hand every now and then. Invoking “God helps those who help themselves” to justify our own stubbornness or unwillingness to help is simply false. In this world of contrasts, do you want to be the person who trusted God to help them find a job and thus applied for jobs or do you want to be like the man who had chances to get to safety and refused because he was so sure that God was going to help in another way? Likewise, do we want to be like Hilly who had an opportunity to be a blessing and chose not to or do we want to be like Skeeter who chose to be a blessing? God does help those who help themselves but he also helps those who can’t. Perhaps he will use you in this work. May it be so in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – amen.

Sermon: Half Truths – “Everything Happens for a Reason”

mainslide-half-truthsI have been intending to post this sermon for most of the week but life kept getting in the way. This is the first in a five week series of sermons inspired by Half Truths by Rev. Adam Hamilton. During this series at Shiloh, we are taking a look at a “Christian cliche” which sounds biblical but really is not. That is not to say that some of these don’t have at least some element of truth but sometimes these sayings are (1) not biblical and (2) can cause great harm. This one in particular hits home for me so I was glad to do it first. This coming Sunday we are looking at “God Helps Those who Help Themselves.” I will try to post it sooner! I hope you receive a blessing from this sermon. Please feel free to leave any feedback you would like to – Jonathan

Half Truths: Everything Happens for a Reason
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
August 14, 2016

GENESIS 50:20 (NLT) – 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.

ROMANS 8:28 (NLT) – And we know that God causes everything to work together[m] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most of you know about my daughter’s death soon after she was born. Among the many things I remember about that day was the outpouring of love and the many text messages and phone calls I got. Most I honestly don’t remember much about but I do remember a couple that stood out because of what they said. The gist of what these messages said was “so sorry to hear of what happened. It must have been God’s will. There must have been some reason why she died. It’s all part of God’s plan.

Let me stop right here for a moment and ask you to do me a favor: Please, never say anything like those statements to anyone who is in the midst of tragedy. Often these words are meant well and the person saying them is simply trying to provide some kind of reminder of God being present. But to me, these words provide no comfort and can do great harm to one’s soul. And not to mention, do we really want to paint God as a celestial bully who would willfully take someone’s child from them or give someone cancer? If we understand that God’s very nature and ways are only of love then we simply can not think that these things are true. Here’s the spoiler for today’s message: God is not in the business of willfully causing pain in order to prove a point or to make some kind of chain of events occur. Simply, bad things just happen. But this is not to say that God can’t or doesn’t redeem that bad thing for a good purpose.

When we use the logic that everything that happens is because God orchestrated it or that he has some purpose, we can then make an argument that everything is God’s will. If a marriage ends in divorce because one of the spouses committed adultery, did that happen because God intended for the marriage to end before it even began? When someone makes the decision to shoot elementary school students, does this mean those kids had to die by the actions of the shooter as part of a grant celestial plan that God came up with? We can even go down the line and say that God willed it for Mississippi State to lose to Ole Miss in football yet again and for UK to not make the Final Four last year.

When we say that everything happens for a reason or we make claims that something happening was simply God’s will, we are essentially passing the buck on any sort of personal responsibility that we have for our actions. Take the above events: If we simply chalk them up to just being God’s will or he having a divine purpose for making these things happen, that means we have no responsibility. That means that the spouse who cheated didn’t actually do anything wrong because they were just acting according to God’s will. This means that the shooter was merely an instrument of God used to continue his plan. This means that Mississippi State and UK have no responsibility for their not playing well enough to win the games I mentioned because God simply did not intend for them to win.

In our scriptures for today we have one from the old testament and one from the new testament which might seem like a night and day difference. These scriptures are sometimes used by people who defend that God has everything planned in advance and that we are all just players in his great drama. The reading out of Genesis 50 of toward the end of the story of Joseph. Perhaps you know the story. Joseph was beloved by his father. His brothers were jealous so they sold him into slavery to the Egyptians In spite of his being a slave he became a trusted advisor of the pharaoh and helped the Egyptians avoid the consequences of a famine which was revealed to Joseph in a dream. Joseph eventually ends up helping his brothers who sold him into slavery and they were reconciled. Hearing all of this, I can see where it would be easy to conclude that Joseph was trapped in a hole in the ground and sold to the Egyptians in order to prevent them and their neighbors from going hungry. There is a strong case to be made for this innocent man being sold into slavery being part of God’s plan. Which brings us to the new testament reading.

Paul wrote Romans when he was on his way to being put on trial in from of the emperor. Paul was no stranger to conflict, in fact his ministry is marked with it time and time again. So Paul is in the midst of one of these conflicts and pens this letter in which he states that God works all things out for the good of Himself and his people. This is another scripture in which people sometimes try to defend the notion that God has somehow planned everything. But note what Paul did not say: He did say that God has arranged everything according to his will. He did not say that God has caused him to be taken into chains and put on trial to face death. He did not say that God made him go to prison. Paul, instead, says that God works it all out in the end. This is an important difference to take note of because Paul is not placing the blame on God for his being under arrest, rather he is acknowledging that God will use it. To say it another way, God doesn’t cause innocent people to go to jail, he doesn’t cause people to die of cancer, and he does not cause people to be killed in senseless tragedies. But when these things do happen, he make the evil thing bring about good for the Kingdom of God.

Part of the reason so many of us have this notion of God is because of a theologian named John Calvin. Calvin was very much against the theology of the Catholic church and the argument could be made that almost everything they were for, he was against. His understanding of protestant theology was outlined in what is considered to be one of the classics of Christians theology called The Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin was a proponent of a outlook called theological determinism. In a nutshell, Calvin believed that God is sovereign and has dominion over everything in the world, including everything that happens right down to the cells in our body replicating. Calvin’s argument was that if something occurred that was not God’s will then God could not be sovereign and have dominion. Calvin also believed in a principle called predestination, which meant that not only did God know everything that would happen in history but that he actually planned everything. Further, Calvin stated that this included God not knowing but actually choosing who would and would not be saved in in his presence forever. In other words, Calvin felt that God planned every single thing that would ever happen, including the fact that you’re here today at Shiloh and that God has even chosen who will and will not be forgiven of their sins. Calvin’s view is that God has picked and chosen who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had similar beliefs to Calvin in several areas. He even made a statement which said, in essence that Methodism was within a breath of Calvinism. However, Wesley disagreed with Calvin in one major area: Predestination. Wesley believed that from the very beginning humankind was given free will, or the ability to make our own choices. Wesley believed that God knows how we will decide but that he does not actually cause us to make certain decisions. While Calvin believed that a person could not choose to trust God – rather that God would in a sense force them to believe through what he called irresistible grace – Methodist belief is that we decide for ourselves to trust Christ. Instead of irresistible grace, Wesley believed that God gives us prevenient grace, or grace which comes before which God uses to reach out to us humans and enable us to say yes to his justifying and sanctifying grace. Wesley believed that we have free will instead of having our will dictated to us.

The Bible lends support to this notion from the very beginning. In Genesis we read that God made the universe, the world, and everything in it and when he had placed Adam and Eve in the garden he gave them dominion over it. This does not sound like a micromanaging, puppet string pulling God to me. Instead it sounds like that God’s intention was to be present but not to interfere in the day to day stuff. God certainly did not intend for Adam and Eve to disobey him. Why would God compel people to disobey him? The logic simply does not stand up to the test. Simply put, God is not in the business of micromanagement and he certainly is not a puppet master. God also does not cause bad things to happen.

We want to believe that everything happens for a reason, that especially when bad things happen it’s all for a greater purpose. This simply just is not true. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons but sometimes they just happen. But they do not happen because God willed it or because he wanted to prove a point. God does not give people cancer. God does not cause children to die. God does not cause any sort of tragedy. But when tragedy does strike, let us remember that God is in the midst of it and he is ready to take that evil, ugly thing and make something beautiful come out of it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt – amen.

A Retrospective of my 34th Year

il_214x170-909037442_cgnnIn years past I have written this post either at or just before midnight of my birthday but this year I didn’t quite make it. I was sacked out way early so I’m actually writing this on my birthday. Another year in my life has passed by and here I am at 35. I can remember when I thought 35 was old. Especially now that I’m at that age, I certainly don’t feel that way anymore.

I don’t feel old, I feel great.

When I wrote my last retrospective, I had been living in Kentucky for about two months and I was still getting my bearings as I was still the new preacher in town. I am still relatively speaking new to town but I can say that I feel so much at home here. In my 34th year I discovered that I could come to this new place called Stanton and make a a proper go at it. I got involved in the community by working with Powell County EMS and joining the Lions Club and have gotten to know some great people. While living here I have also discovered that the people of Powell County love pizza and we have some of the best pizza around right in the Red River Gorge (I’m a fat kid, you knew I had to talk about food at some point).

My 34th year was also my first year as a student at Asbury. I remember having my doubts when I stepped onto campus for my first class (IBS-Matthew with Dr. Bauer; it’s a right of passage for ATS students). I was nervous. Scared. And yet, I was comforted in knowing that I was in a holy place where I was going to learn a lot. Not only have I gotten what has already proven to be a world-class theological education, I have made friends who I hope I know for the rest of my life. I have also experienced movements of the Holy Spirit which have been nothing short of amazing.

What was the highlight of my year? I have several high points that I could choose from but it had to be my trip to England. London is one of the places I have wanted to visit for years and I was thrilled at the opportunity to not only check this off of my bucket list but also to learn more about the roots of Methodism. Being able to put my hands on the baptismal font where John and Charles Wesley (and countless others) were baptized, to stand where they stood, to see where they learned, lived, and worshiped were experiences that I will never forget. In addition to the sites related to Methodism and the Wesleys, I was also able to see where so much history both in and out of the church had taken place. Among the highlights were being able to experience worship services at Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The lessons I learned on this trip were also some that I will never forget. By far, this once in a lifetime trip  – which was also my first transatlantic flight and first time out of the country – was the highlight of my year.

The one thing I have experienced over and over again is the love, grace, and healing that God brings. Just like anyone else, I have ups and downs and God has not failed me yet. Through the Holy Spirit and so many people I have seen His love for me exactly when I needed to. I have also been blessed by seeing lives changed, transformation, spiritual rebirth. I have had the been blessed by the opportunities to minister to so many people, to baptize, to serve Holy Communion, and even to celebrate lives well lived (I don’t enjoy death but I love knowing that someone has run their course in life well).

34 was overall great. Let’s make 35 even better.