#GC2019: God Don’t Like Ugly

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The question that a lot of people have right now is, “How do we move on?” For people who support the traditional interpretation of scriptures related to human sexuality, the mood seems to be like that of a “win.” For our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the level of sadness and hurt is palpable. Many who are gay or who support including LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry and allowing UM clergy to perform their weddings would consider General Conference 2019 to a “loss.”

I would make this submission: There were no winners, only losers.

With few exceptions, I watched almost every moment on the live stream. I felt that I should witness as much of this pivotal time in the church as possible. I was sorry that I made that decision for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest regrets I have is witnessing the amount of ugly from so many people. Where I come from, we have a saying: “God don’t like ugly.”

I highly doubt he liked the shenanigans that took place in Saint Louis.

Especially on the final day, much of what I witnessed made my skin crawl. One scene, in particular, was a lay delegate quoting scripture very much out of context. Ok, proof-texting is common so I was not too shocked that this was happening. But when she quoted Matthew 18:5-6, it was revealed that many took this as implying that LGBTQ persons should be drowned. Whether this was her intent or not – and I pray it wasn’t – this was ugly and poor use of scripture.

God don’t like ugly.

I’m afraid things only got worse from there. I saw traditionalists implying the worst about progressives and vice-versa. I saw accusations of unethical behavior happening on the floor. I saw tempers getting the best of people, Need I go on? It was all ugly.

God don’t like ugly.

I hope that, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, we can all agree that a lot of harm was done. One of the most significant bits of harm was done to our witness for Christ. Some will argue that God was honored with the adoption of the Traditional Plan. Some will argue that God was not honored. One thing I can tell you for certain is that God was not honored in how everyone treated one another.

As God’s people, we have to do better.

On Sunday, I preached out of Luke 6; the title of the sermon was “Love Your Enemies, Even the Ones You Don’t Agree With.” The title might be a bit of a misnomer, however, in that part of my argument was “is someone you disagree with really your enemy or do we just like to think they are?” I would say such a person is not.

Regardless of how you feel, you are entitled to grieve, lament, or celebrate as you are led. But, please, remember that every single person you ever lay eyes on, talk to, or encounter on Twitter is of infinite sacred worth, even if you disagree with that person about anything or lots of things. We are commanded by scripture to treat one another the way we want to be treated.

Let’s start doing it. That’s how we move forward, because “God don’t like ugly.”

Why the One Church Proposal is Bad for the United Methodist Church

tug-o-warAs we awaited the final report to be published from the Commission on a Way Forward, I resolved to not pledge support to any of the proposals until I had an opportunity to read the reports for myself. With all of the rumors and speculation about what the plans will and won’t do swirling around on social media and elsewhere, I found this difficult to do but I held on to this because I feel that the future of the United Methodist Church is too important to base opinions on some tweets or the views of bloggers (which may be a bit ironic seeing as I am a blogger). So, I continued to wait. Finally, my and everyone else’s patience paid off.

I have had an opportunity to review all of the proposals. I have to admit, I have a hard time supporting any of them. For example: The “traditionalist plan” is not specific enough for me. With the accountability models proposed, I can see a lot of potential for abuse and for witch hunts to ensue. This is not something I can support. I can see a day where clergy are called to the carpet and questioned for basically anything that could even be potentially considered support for homosexual marriage and ordination.

I don’t want a bunch of wannabe Delores Umbridge-types running the church.

The proposal I have the most issues with is the One Church Plan. This may be surprising to read since I consider myself a moderate and One Church has been touted as the proposal that moderates can get on board with. In a nutshell, One Church provides for a local option. Annual conferences and congregations would be able to decide for themselves whether or not they will allow homosexual marriage and homosexual clergy. This is a terrible idea and a proposal that needs to be soundly defeated.

Here are the reasons why I believe One Church is bad for the UMC.

  • One Church would change the polity of the UMC. The United Methodist Church has a connectional and episcopal polity. In a nutshell, this means we have a body – General Conference – that decides matters such as doctrine and theology and sets the official positions of the church. The Bishops oversee the congregations within their assigned annual conferences, appoint pastors, and so on. Congregations are not allowed to decide their doctrine and annual conferences are not allowed to decide which clergy they will and will not accept. This authority rests solely with General Conference. One Church would change this by giving congregations and annual conferences the ability to decide their doctrinal positions on homosexuality for themselves. This may sound like a good compromise but this is a Pandora’s box that should not be opened. If a congregation or annual conference is able to make decisions on human sexuality for themselves, what’s stopping them from deciding that they will not ordain female clergy? What about going against infant baptism? The polity of the United Methodist Church is not congregational. These matters are not for congregations and annual conferences to decide.
  • The United Methodist Church will only be more divided. Congregations that decide they can not abide by the doctrine decided by their annual conference will be given a way to leave the denomination or affiliate with another annual conference of their choice. This will only sew the seeds for further discord and schism within the United Methodist Church. The issue of human sexuality has been very polarizing and tribalism is very strong within the church. We see this with caucus groups such as the Reconciling Ministries Network and Wesleyan Covenant Association and all of the fighting that members of these and other groups have engaged in. One Church will do nothing to support unity and will instead increase division within the United Methodist Church.

Make no mistake: The future of the United Methodist Church is very much hanging in the balance and General Conference 2019 will be a pivotal time for the church. One Church is not going to solve all of the problems and will only increase them. One Church is not “a moderate’s dream come true” as someone stated on Twitter. One Church will only increase the division and tribalism that we are seeing.

But let’s be real: Regardless of which proposal is passed – or if none are passed (yes, that is possible) – we have only seen the beginning of the drama. Congregations and clergy are going to leave the church no matter what. The only question is which ones. I predict that ten years from now we will still be fighting over property and pensions from those who do leave. I have no idea what the “ideal” solution will be but one thing I know is that One Church is not it.

God help us.

Random Thoughts and Ramblings on Being a Moderate in the UMC and The Way Forward

slide-5-communion-of-saints“You need to pick a side.”

“Don’t you believe in scripture?”

“If you don’t pick a side, your opinion doesn’t matter.”

These are actual statements made by various people in response to my right-center position within the United Methodist Church.

I have had everything form my fitness for ministry to my very faith called into question because I refuse to choose a faction with which to align in the human sexuality debate, being it WCA, RMN, Good News, or whatever the cool caucus group of the week is. This has been done by people involved on the left and the right. Frankly, such comments are ridiculous and are largely why there are many like me who refuse to “pick a side.”

I can’t take these people seriously.

Anytime I have brought up this topic, almost without fail the discussion has devolved into unhelpful banter and accusation making. I acknowledge my faults in this and acknowledge that I often can present my arguments better. But, I feel this also illustrates a symptom of a larger problem. We simply don’t know how to discuss tough topics, of which this is probably one of the toughest. We don’t like our view challenged and tend to think the worst of the person on the opposite side of the argument (again, something I have been guilty of). Conservatives assume that progressives are trying to turn the United Methodist Church into a body that worships the devil. Progressives assume that conservatives are trying to turn the church into the church equivalent of a country club.

We (and I definitely include myself) must stop assuming the worst about each other.

We also need to stop thinking that those in the center are apathetic and wishy-washy. I am honestly very frustrated over this more than anything else. My views don’t fit in a box. But here’s what I can say for sure and easily: I know good people on the left and the right (and so do you). I know good people who love Jesus more than anything else and are seeking to give the best witness they possibly can – and these people exist on both the left and the right. Another thing I know is that if we all sat down at tables and had real, deep, challenging discussions we would find out that we all have much more things that we agree on than we do things that we disagree with.

Left, right, center, whatever, we are all made in God’s image.

I think many of us are going to be surprised that there are people we know to hold opposing political views, people who we know only as prostitutes, thieves, adulterers, and others who we view as unfit in the presence of God along with us. We are all afforded the opportunity to accept God’s gift of grace, mercy, and reconciliation. Yes, even the people we don’t like. We have got to figure out a way to get along. This is our mandate as Christians. For my part in stoking the fires of discord, I repent.

But for being somewhere in the middle of what I think the UMC should do, I do not apologize. In his book Being United Methodist in the Bible Belt, F. Belton Joyner likened being a United Methodist to being a passenger on a large tour bus with Jesus driving us all to the same place. All of us together, regardless of our differences. Personally, if there is any way to do so, I would like to keep it that way.

Life is much better when we are together.

Jonathan

Sermon: The Apostle’s Tale – Groaning

Note: This is, more or less, my sermon from this morning’s worship service at Shiloh UMC in Stanton, Kentucky. Last week I began a series called The Apostle’s Tale which mostly is based on readings from Romans 8. This series was designed to go along with readings from the Revised Common Lectionary from a few weeks ago but I was doing another series and began this one late. It worked out perfectly, as this sermon dealt with our responsibility as disciples in light of the suffering and evil in the world. Perfect timing. I hope you receive encouragement and food for thought.

 

Romans 8:12-25 (NIV)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[c] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all ages, nations, and races?

Last week, we began this series with a backdrop of dystopia using examples from The Hunger Games and the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. We also touched on the dystopia all around us, a world where there is much fear and violence, always an “us” versus “them” mentality. We talked about people being oppressed and some people having while others go without simply because of issues such as social class, race, and any number of factors. At least to some extent, dystopia is all around us and, unfortunately, is not just the stuff of books and movies.

We have been seeing some of this play out over the last few days. The North Korean government has made threats of a nuclear strike against Guam and on the mainland of the United States.Kim Jong Un claims that his government is working on specific plans and once it’s completed he will sign off on it and that will be all that’s needed to launch a strike. Allegedly a nuclear warhead can be rocketed toward Guam and be there in 14 minutes. Because of these threats, there has been much anxiety and fear in Guam and elsewhere, mainly at not knowing whether North Korea is truly capable of launching such an attack or if they would actually have the moxy to make such attempt. And, “What if they do and they do it?” Fear. Dystopia.

Yesterday we saw a little piece of dystopia play out with the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in what I feel is a true expression of evil. Violence irrupted and a few people have even lost their lives, ultimately because of racism. Neo-nazis gathered to protest the removal of Civil War monuments and also rallied against the acceptance of other races other than white. Let me very clear: Racism is evil. Violence with racism as the root cause is evil. Racism is incompatible with Christian teaching and should not be tolerated within the church. And yet, so many of these groups claim to be Christians, they claim that they are doing work for God, and they claim that the Bible endorses the enslavement of blacks and calls them evil. Their views are contrary to scripture – scripture does not say any of that. Their actions and words, while they may have the right to hold their opinions, are evil. It’s dystopia playing out on the news.

As Christians, we often feel that we should somehow be exempt from having to experience the evils of the world. Evil is really hard to avoid but we try anyway. We hide ourselves with whatever we think will shield us and we try to pretend that it isn’t there. This really is the complete opposite of what we should do. We can lament and say, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me because I have Jesus and therefore I don’t have to endure it.” But we see that Paul tells is that part of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ means that we don’t look away from the suffering going on in the world. We simply can’t. We must acknowledge it and call it what it is. We must confront the sufferings head on.

So how do we do this? How do we keep our eyes on Christ and yet make sure that we see the evils which are happening in the world for what they truly are, something that simply should not being ignored? We do this by joining in God’s sorrow over the state of this world. We join in and take our place in the chorus of all of God’s creation as it groans. The groans are caused by the long pains of labor as God’s promised kingdom is birthed.

I remember a particular call when I ran when I was an EMT. I was working in Mississippi and had not yet enrolled in paramedic school. In fact, I had not been an EMT for very long at all. When the dispatcher called us she was obviously very upset when normally she was calm and professional. I won’t go into the details of the call for a lot of reasons but I will say that it was… gruesome. The patient was in terrible shape and severely disfigured. It was difficult to look at him but I had to force myself to. I had to care for him. I had to look at him and his injuries. Thankfully this was toward the end of my shift but the rest of it was spent in a daze. The sight that I had to force myself to observe was completely overwhelming. When I got home, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I simply had nothing left to give and I ended up sleeping most of the day… Well, when I couldn’t see his face in a dream. That was the price I had to pay but I had no choice. I had to force myself to take it all in and provide the best care I could for him.

Life is like that sometimes. Sometimes the reality that we simply must force ourselves to take it and to not ignore is so overwhelming that it takes all of our energy and we simply have nothing left to give.

Those of us who claim Jesus as Lord must pay attention to the goings-on in the world but we also need to make sure that we acknowledge the suffering and evil as well. We may want to ignore it and try to shield ourselves from it but we shouldn’t and, let’s be honest, we can’t. We can’t turn out backs on the suffering of our neighbors. We can’t turn our backs on heroin and opiate addicts. We can’t turn our backs on the homeless. We can’t turn our backs on the poor. We can’t turn our backs on racists and other bigots. We can’t turn away from threats from North Korea and other entities who seek to do our country harm. And we can’t turn our backs on people within our own borders who wish to do harm to our country. We must acknowledge. We must look. And we must act, even if that action is simply praying for God’s guidance and wisdom.

Paul tells us this – he tells us that we must look upon and acknowledge those places where the most pain and the most groaning by all of creation is happening. But here’s the tricky part, the part that we don’t tend to like: We must join in the suffering. We have to take the pain of others on ourselves and bear it. And even when we don’t see hope, we must never, never, never give up. When the enemy tries to drag us away and distract us from the suffering of the world, we have to dig our heels in deeper and stand our ground. We must be patient, we must remember that God is good and God is working to bring about his kingdom and that day will be here sooner than we think!

It’s natural to wonder where all of this evil and suffering comes from. A common question is “where did all of this come from? How did it start?” It seems to be counterintuitive to God’s intention for the world. And, really, that’s because it is counterintuitive to God’s original plan.

John Wesley talked about this in one of his sermons. He wrestles with the question of how it can be that God provides for all of creation and yet there is suffering.

Ultimately, he chalks it up to original sin. He begins by noting that God created human beings in God’s own image of perfect righteousness and love and gave humans dominion over all of creation, especially those lesser animals, or “brutes” as Wesley names the non-human animal kingdom. The difference between humans and brutes, for Wesley, is that humans alone were endowed with the capacity to obey their creator. Thus endowed, God’s original intent was that humans would ensure that no beasts under their care suffered: “All the blessings of God in paradise flowed through man to the inferior creatures, as man was the great channel of communication between the Creator and the whole brute creation,’ Wesley writes.

Unfortunately, as we all know, human beings messed up the transmission of those blessings in an irreversible way. This has affected not only all humans, but all the creatures under humanity’s care. Wesley laments that there is no way to know what suffering creation has endured because of original sin. All we know is that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; not only creation but we ourselves”

This is why we have evil. The downside of free will is that one is free to commit evil acts if we so choose – that is, if the enemy can fool us into thinking that we should do these things. This is why the neo-nazis and the dictators of the world are allowed to make their threats, shout their vulgar racial slurs, and to drive their cars into groups of innocent people.

Christians are not people of isolation. We simply can not and should not hide ourselves from the suffering of the world and simply remain in our bubbles. Maybe you’ve seen the movie, about the boy who was so sick that he could have absolutely no contact with the outside world? He literally had to live in the bubble. I feel that we Christians often hide ourselves in our bubbles to try and ignore the evil of the world but Paul tells us that we simply can’t do that. Christians are not bubble people! We can’t ignore evil and hope that it will go away because, at least until Christ returns, evil isn’t going anywhere. We must acknowledge it. We must name it. We must feel pain with each other and with our neighbors. We must join in the collective groaning of the world rather than ignoring it.

I want to remind us about the words that we heard last week after we confessed our sins just before having Holy Communion last week: “Hear the Good News! Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. This proves God’s love for us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” And we celebrate that because of Christ, we have been set free from the law of sin and death.

This IS the good news of Jesus Christ! As the women would say in The Handmaid’s Tale, “Praise Be!”

But being saved from eternal suffering does not give us a pass to avoid the suffering of God’s creation. Rather, we are called to join with Christ in his suffering, just as we will also join in Christ’s glory.

I want to read the baptismal vows one more time. I want you to ponder them one more time. Are you all in and do you truly affirm these vows or are they just words?

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to all ages, nations, and races?

If you do, say “amen.”

Final Thoughts on #WCAMEMPHIS

17190692_1317897651589772_5539392738647395563_nFirst, an apology for my post taking so long. What can I say, life has happened (remember: I’m in seminary).

I have now had a few days to reflect on the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s conference in Memphis. You may remember in my previous post that I indicated that I did not hear anything outright calling for a split or other things that some people may have expected to be said or done. The second day of the conference was also very good, but there was also some words stated that could be perceived as calling for a separation.

I have to admit, this did somewhat concern me and put me off.

I understand that separation may happen and I also acknowledge that a split could ultimately be the best way forward for the Methodist movement in America. But I believe that this is something that should be considered in the future. I stand by my opinion that a separation should not be on the table as of this moment.

Perhaps I could have misunderstood or my perception was otherwise off but it felt as of some comments made by Dr. Andrew Thompson and Dr. Billy Abraham were calling for a separation of factions now rather than waiting for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward to be completed, and for the special called session of General Conference taking place in 2019 to vote on a proposal. Again, it’s possible that I read too much into their words but I could not help but feel that in their minds a separation soon was the way to go.

Aside from those concerns, I found their speeches to be thought-provoking and timely. I agree with Dr. Thompson that holiness is something that we have lost as Christians and as the church. Perhaps it’s more accurate to state that we spend more time debating about what holiness looks like rather than actually practicing it. Dr. Abraham’s message was mainly on Methodists getting back to being Methodist. Again, I feel this is something that we spend way too much time debating and not nearly enough practicing. It’s certainly right to figure out what these things look like but we should not spend all of our time talking.

It’s time to start doing.

Rev. Carolyn Moore spoke on the church regaining the vision that the apostles had for the church after Jesus ascended. As I have reflected on this, I have come to the same conclusion that I did on holiness and “being Methodist:” We talk a lot but do very little. I’ve been preaching for the last couple of weeks with a central theme of “waking up” to the reality of what being a Christian is instead of simply going through the motions. We need to wake up from our stupor and stop claiming to be the church. What we should do is to concentrate more on being the church.

Rev. Shane Stanford’s message during the closing service of holy communion was incredible. I actually used this story in my sermon on Sunday (I will post it here later) because it spoke so well to the meaning and significance of the sacrament.

As I have reflected, I have found that I continue to be concerned about having litmus tests for one’s faith. I feel that one of the things one really needs to decide is what truly are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Where is the line between legalism and ensuring that we have the right beliefs? This is something I continue to wrestle with.

#WCAMEMPHIS was not really what I expected. This is actually a good thing, as I was pleasantly surprised in several ways. The leadership of WCA claims that they are committed to the unity of the church at this time. I hope they truly are. As for me, I will continue to wait, pray, watch, and see how all of this plays out. Then and only then will I act.

In a State of Grief

16487258_10202696045679339_4022807814672635655_o
Credit: Rev. Giles Lindley

Yesterday as I was driving into Stanton to run some errands, I heard my phone chime with a message. When I reached my destination, I checked my phone before I went inside. It was a message from a friend and clergy colleague in the North Georgia Annual Conference with a link to the website of Getwell Road UMC in Southaven, Mississippi. Her message was, “Have you heard about this?” When I clicked the link, it was voting results of a congregational vote (the page has since been removed). The result of the vote, overwhelmingly, was that the congregation would seek to disassociate from the United Methodist Church.

I was floored.

Then resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference, James Swanson, Sr., issued a statement confirming not only Getwell Road was exploring a disassociation but that The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi was also discerning leaving.

Lead Pastor of The Orchard, Rev. Brian Collier, stated that, “he doesn’t want to get involved in the debate. ”

The argument is going to be a long, drawn out one. And we think it’s an enormous distraction and we don’t be distracted. We want to get on with the ministry Jesus has called us to.

I think Rev. Collier and I would have to agree to disagree.

While wanting to concentrate on ministry without a “distraction” is commendable, I am disheartened that he and Rev. Bill Beavers (Getwell Road’s lead pastor) and their congregations have not given the Commission on a Way Forward time to complete their work. I believe that we should see the process through, wait for General Conference to decide what course of action the denomination will take, and then make decisions on whether to stay or go. I have heard rumors that other churches are also considering taking similar actions and this causes me even more disappointment. While I do not agree with unity for the sake of unity, I also don’t believe that the Body of Christ should be unnecessarily further divided.

Now is not the time to be making our exit.

I intend to remain a pastor in the United Methodist Church at least until this process is finished and wait for General Conference to make their decision. Then, and only then, will I further discern how I live out the calling that God has placed on me. Right now, I intend to continue to pray for the United Methodist Church, our congregations, and all who are involved in the decisions as we discern how we understand scripture and seek to live and minister together. I am watching, listening, praying, and waiting. To do anything else at this point, in my opinion, is not prudent.

I hope you will join me in praying for Getwell Road, The Orchard, their pastors, parishioners, and everyone within the Mississippi Annual Conference who are involved in these discussions. And pray that we exercise restraint and not jump to premature conclusions.

Now is not the time to abandon ship.

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.