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Archive for January 2017

Half-Truths Sermon Series

Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.

We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.

Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.

Rev. Paula Steinbacher

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God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
There’s a reason that Rev. Adam Hamilton uses this particular “Half Truth” as the sub-title of his book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” In a recent study from theBarna Group, they found that more than eight out of ten Americans think that this phrase is scriptural!

It is a very common misconception that it is found within our sacred texts, but the very first written record of this saying is from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, published in 1732!

And perhaps there is not a more “American” saying than this Puritan ideal that seems to encourage hard work and diligence, with a promise of God’s Providence.

As our friend and retired pastor, Rev. Bob Bielenberg said, “It’s good advice; it’s just not scriptural.”

And it is good advice. God surely helps those who help themselves, especially when they call out to God for help.

But the half-truth portion comes in when we begin to place conditions on God’s help. Does God ONLY help those who help themselves? No, indeed it is more scriptural to affirm that God helps those who cannot help themselves. Listen to these readings from the Psalms:

Psalm 10:14, 17-18
“The helpless commit themselves to you;
you have been the helper of the orphan…
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart,
you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed.”

From Psalm 18:6,16
“In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From God’s temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears…
He reached down from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of mighty waters.”

From Psalm 121:1-2
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

These are just a few of the readings from Psalms where we are assured that God will help the helpless. And throughout the Hebrew scriptures we hear a God that not only wants us to help the helpless, but demands we help. Look at just this one law from Leviticus 23:22:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”

I cannot express to you how often the theme of the “Poor and oppressed” shows up throughout our Hebrew Scriptures. Most often we hear this in the theme, “Orphan, widow, and alien,” because those were the oppressed of the oppressed; people so disenfranchised and so separated from society that they could not possibly “help themselves.” God demands, through the law and through the voice of the prophet, that we pay special attention to them.

So this half-truth is actually less than half-truth. As Adam Hamilton says, it is more like a 1/3 truth. It’s true in the sense that God will help us when we have the ability to help ourselves; but it is not true because God helps us when we can’t help ourselves; and it is not true in the because God demands us to help those who can’t help themselves.

So, good advice, but only partially true. It would be so much better to shorten this phrase down to “God Helps.” That’s a whole truth, and it is one we are assured of throughout scripture.

God helps. No strings attached; no conditions implied. God. Helps.

Of course we certainly can’t cry out for help and then just wait for some supernatural hand to come sweeping out of the sky to save us though — we have to keep our eyes open for the ways God is helping us.

I recount the old joke about the man who is in a flood where the waters have risen to the point where he has had to climb out onto his roof. He cries out to God, “Rescue me, God!”

Soon a boat floats by, but the man declines to get in the boat. “God will save me,” he says to the rescuer. The water continues to rise and eventually a helicopter flies overhead. The team of rescuers in the helicopter lower down a ladder and ask him to climb on. “No — that’s okay! God will save me.”

Well of course the man drowns. When he finds himself at the pearly gates, he asks God, “God! I was so faithful. I prayed and trusted that you were going to save me. Why didn’t you answer my prayer?”

God answers him, “I sent a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want?”

Yes — God helps those who help themselves. And sometimes that help comes in the form of another person reaching out to give us precisely what we need!

And it’s really important that you recognize the times in which God is helping through you. There are times when your smile, encouragement, kind word or loving act is indeed the way God is helping the helpless. If you’re focused on whether or not the person you are helping “deserves” help or meets the condition of “being able to help himself,” you may actually be keeping God from caring for the person in need because of your own judgemental inaction.

May you be attuned to the ways God is using you to meet the needs of the helpless, and may you also always remember to cry out to God in your distress — trusting that God helps.

With Assurance and Hope,

Rev. P

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

I give because I get so much from this church and the people in it.

I give to try to give thanks for all of the blessings in my life.

I give to Jesus because it makes me feel good about how I’m living my life.

Help to make a difference in our community.

The last couple of years have been a bit trying for us. We feel blessed to be a part of CEH and appreciate the prayers that have helped us through a difficult time. We have not been able to do our fair share but hope that will change in the future. (Margaret Engel)

I don’t know but I will continue to try.

It makes me feel good inside – and I feel good about helping others.

I give my time, talent, and treasure to Jesus Christ because I am thankful for the life He’s blessed me with. I want to live to the fullest to praise Him and glorify Him.

Because I have compassion and feel for those who are in need. Because I know what it is like to be without and I have been in need and therefore I have been given things that help me go thru life.

Half-Truths Sermon Series

Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:

▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin

We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.

We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.

Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.

Rev. Paula

“Everything Happens for a Reason”
I entered the waiting room and looked around for the woman I had come to see, whose daughter had just died in an accident. I was introduced as the Chaplain for the hospital and I sat down next to her.

She let out a long, weak wail that ended with, “Why?” Her wail voiced an immeasurable amount of pain, and the “Why” spoke volumes: anger, shock, disbelief. She wanted to make sense of the sudden death of her daughter, and wanted to know what to tell her granddaughters, who did not yet know that their mother had died.

Because of my training, I just sat in silence with her and held her sobbing body. I listened to her crying, which grew louder and louder, and heard her questions, silently praying for her as I listened.

What I didn’t say, and what I would never say, is “Everything happens for a reason.”

I didn’t say it because it would not have been helpful at the time, and because it is not a biblical statement.

The common saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” is what the Reverend Adam Hamilton calls a “Half-Truth.” It’s something Christians say often, particularly in times of crisis and tragedy. We say it because we are trying to assign meaning or reason to something awful that has happened.

And there is truth to this saying, because there is a natural cause and effect to everything. If you put your hand on a hot burner you’ll get burned. If you do not dress appropriately when the weather is below freezing, you’ll get frost bite. Cause and effect. It’s natural and inevitable.

But when Christians say “Everything happens for a reason” they are typically implying something more like “This is all in God’s plan for you,” or “God has willed this to happen.”

And that sounds okay if you don’t really think about it. But if someone commits an awful crime, you would never allow them to get away with it by saying, “It was all in God’s plan.” For if we say that God wills every one of our choices and actions, where is the personal culpability for sin?

And when tragedy strikes — say the Sandyhook shooting, 9/11, a horrific car accident with multiple deaths, or even a massive hurricane or tornado — I can’t imagine God willed those things to happen. How do we explain that some people’s lives are utterly destroyed and some are left completely unscathed?

Why do I think we have the will to make our own mistakes? I hear it repeatedly in scripture. At the very beginning of our story, God said “Don’t eat of the fruit of that tree.” Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit anyway. Did God cause them to make that choice? No! And God still gives humanity the choice between right and wrong.

Our reading for Sunday from Deuteronomy 30 said, “Then Moses said to the Israelites, ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.'” (18-19a)

God generously grants us each the choice between life and death, blessings and curses. This is scriptural. God is not a puppet master, pulling our strings and causing our every choice and action.

Be assured that this does not limit or confine the power and breadth of God. Because YES! God has a plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 we hear God, through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, tell the nation Israel, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” If you interpret this on a personal level, you hear that God has plans, and they are for your welfare and not for your harm. God plans good things for us; not harm. God wants us to have a future with hope.

And in the midst of tragedy, when sin seems to have won the day, or when a natural disaster or illness has taken away all whispers of hope, we have to trust that God is with us in our suffering. We have to trust that God can take every awful thing that happens and transform it into something with meaning and relevance and hope.

God with us. Emmanuel.

We see this illustrated the best in our story of the crucifixion. How could it be that something as awful as a public and humiliating death on the cross could be transformed into something as glorious as the empty tomb? Yet every Sunday we proclaim and celebrate the Resurrection — the new day!

I want you to think this through now — before tragedy strikes or before you find yourself about to tell someone “Everything happens for a reason.” Think it through, wrestle with these complex questions, and I pray you will come out knowing that whatever happens, God will be with you.

Back to that moment in the trauma center, with the mother who was weeping and questioning. She eventually voiced the question that causes my heart to ache: “Why did God take her away from me?”

I’ve heard this repeatedly in my work as a chaplain, and even in the pastorate. And every time I’ve heard it, I have actually felt physical pain that they would feel God has taken someone away from them.

My answer to that, in prayer, is something like this, “We thank you, O God our Creator, that you have not taken our beloved away from us; rather, you have already received her into your loving and eternal arms. And although we may never understand ‘why,’ we can be assured that you are walking with us in our pain and grief. Amen.”

May your questioning and searching minds come to know and trust the peace of a God who gives us choices to make mistakes that were never a part of God’s plan; who gives us guidance to make good choices when we seek that guidance; and who promises to be with us, Emmanuel, in everything that happens.

With Assurance and Hope,

Rev. P

***
CEH Encouragement

During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:

I am thankful for all God has provided to me. Giving to CEH allows me to give back to God. I feel cared about and loved here. I want to share that with others by giving back (and forward!)

To give back to the Community of Christ

All Glory and Honor be to God, our Saviour.

I give to my family to assure their well-being as my parents gave to me. I would like to give more to the church but am not sure what to do.

I have been craving a welcoming community and a loving church family. Yesterday (Saturday) the Holy Spirit prompted me over and over to come here today (Sunday). I listened. Glory to God. Can’t wait to voyage onward with you all.

We want to give back because of our blessings in life. I will do some serving and cooking and help in the kitchen and I will continue to meet with jail inmates in Grand County and other venues.

I’m a behind the scenes person, helping serve meals at memorials, etc. I always feel very satisfied after an event.

I like to care for people and make them feel loved and valued. I can do this through CEH and I do it. I am recharged by Pastor Paula’s sermon and her example in living a positive life. I don’t think I can live without Paula’s leadership. I wish I had more talents to contribute.