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Sep 27, 2015

What If Your Trust Should Suddenly Increase?

What If Your Trust Should Suddenly Increase?

Passage: John 10:22-38

Speaker: Bruce Van Blair

Series: Sermons

Category: Faith

Keywords: abundant life, trust, faith

What If Your Trust Should Suddenly Increase?

 September 27, 2015                                                             John 10:22-38

WHAT IF YOUR TRUST SHOULD SUDDENLY INCREASE?

         Many of you know that I have vocabulary problems. I don’t mean to be difficult, but I really want to understand and participate in the Christian Life, and lots of the words being used today obscure Christian Truth more than they illuminate it. It is not my opinion that Christian principles and concepts have changed so much, though I wonder about that sometimes. What is clearly true is that our vocabulary has changed along the way until many of the old words, now in translation of course, do not carry the content or meaning they once had. That can have an alarming effect on what we think we are supposed to be saying, doing, and believing. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not charity, I am nothing.... Faith, hope, and charity abide, but the greatest of these is ....” So of course it is the highest purpose of the Christian Life for all of us to become enablers. And there is plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that this is what many Christians truly believe.

         Anyway, if you say “Hell” to me, I think of a mixture of fear and loneliness. Hell is not hot; it is the place of utter aloneness. Most of us have come to realize that when the New Testament says “sin,” in most cases it is talking about an alienation from God – a condition of separation from God. Bad deeds may express this separation, but “sin” is essentially a condition of the heart and mind – not a temporary breach of good conduct or a case of bad manners.

         If you are born an alcoholic – that is, with a propensity for addiction to alcohol – then working the program never cures you. You can have a sober life, but the addiction is patient and always waiting. This coming Thursday, if I stay on program, will mark my thirty-third year of sobriety. But I am always and ever only one drink away from a life I abhor. I am also a sinner, and there is no final cure for this either; there is no way to be whole or free from the pride and self-centeredness that are part of being alive in this world. If I stop praying, the alienation from God will take over my life very quickly. None of the years of gratitude or service or worship or study will prevent the inevitable estrangement from coming back on me.

         There are bigger issues in life than my sobriety or my relationship with God: global warming, global hunger, war, disease, poverty, injustice. Clearly I am an insignificant midge in the midst of such huge challenges and problems. But if I am drunk or at odds with God, there will not be any quality of life for me, no matter what challenges the world is dealing with. And in fact, even if suddenly all the problems of the world were solved – if I am still drunk or estranged from God, there will be no life for me worth living.

         This awareness has a huge impact on my ministry and on what I think the church is for and about. I know this annoys some people, especially those who think the purpose of the church is for us to get together and fix all the world’s problems, at least insofar as we can. But that cuts no ice for me. I still know we need a Savior. In my language, we still need to get sober – we still need to be reconciled to God – or none of our efforts to do anything for anyone will be of any lasting value, for them or for us.

         In any case, if you say “faith” to me, I translate that to “trust.” Jesus ran into a Roman Centurion who trusted Jesus’ authority – more, Jesus said, than anything He had seen in Israel. And Jesus said that this illustration of trust was the best picture of “faith” we were likely to find anywhere. The Christian Life is not about what we believe as tidbits of philosophical or theological truth, though what we believe about this or that is endlessly fascinating to us. The Christian Life is about how much we trust God. It is about how much we trust Jesus to be revealing to us what God is really like. How much we trust God changes everything we do and decide about everything we are involved in. What we believe about God as an intellectual exercise changes very little about our actual choices or behavior. The world has been proving this for centuries now. I wonder if we will ever catch on.

         So why have I tacked this long preamble onto this sermon? I am hoping that by the end of this day, you will realize that if your trust in God took a dramatic leap forward, it would change your entire reality. But if you think I am suggesting that you do not have great trust in God already, then you will not be able to hear today’s sermon at all. This sermon is not a complaint toward you. I know that many of you have amazing faith (trust) in God. I have seen you come through many trials, dangers, temptations, snags, and traps already. Some of you left some flesh behind, but you came through anyway. This sermon does not suggest in any way that you are not a faithful follower, that you are pretending about your Christian Walk, or that you need to be better in any way to please me – about anything.

         We live in an imperfect world where there are no absolutes. I know that. But many of you, in my view, are in the top five percent of the world’s population when it comes to trying to love and honor and follow Jesus. But a greater possibility still exists. Would it be better if we trusted God even more? What would happen if we trusted each other even more? Would it change our friendships, our marriages, and our relationships with our children if there was even more trust than there is at present? Of course, it would open us up to even more disappointment and heartache if we trusted more and then got betrayed or disappointed. But that is at the heart of the issue in every relationship we ever have. So now most of you can feel where this sermon is going.

         Trust is the foundation – the most important element – in any and every relationship we ever form. If we trust anyone very much for very long, love begins to form. We think there are many exceptions, but I doubt it. We do love our children before trust has a chance to form, but that’s a different form of trust. “Hope” is a word we use for trusting the future. It is a specialized and scary kind of trust, but it is trust nonetheless. And if we lose hope, our lives shut down completely. Anyway, that is not the side of trust I want us to be thinking about this morning.

         What would happen to your life if suddenly your trust for God increased by twenty percent? Can you imagine such a thing? Your theological belief system may claim that God is worthy of such trust. Mine tells me that all the time. But what matters in real life is not what my mind claims to believe, but what my whole being actually and truly believes.

         We all walked in here this morning with some concerns on our minds. Maybe they are only in the back of the mind; maybe they are front and center. But we all know some things that could go wrong. We all have hopes for a better future for ourselves and for those we love, and we are aware that there are things that can threaten the hopes we have. The truth is that if my trust in God increased by twenty percent, the level of my anxiety and fear would be reduced by twenty percent. I cannot contain both fear and trust in the same mind at the same time. They are mortal enemies. To make more room for one, I have to reduce the other.

         This tussle goes on all the time in every one of us. Shall I live in fear, or shall I live in faith? Sometimes it ebbs more toward the one; sometimes more toward the other. But if I want to grow on the Christian Path, than at times I must take a look at how much I trust God.

         Trust is at the core of every relationship, of course; it is not just important in our relationship with God. I don’t think any of us ever has a relationship that does not eventually have to recover from broken trust in one way or another. Sometimes it may seem blatant; sometimes nobody intended it. But if the trust is broken, either the relationship will wither away or we must find some way to restore the broken trust. That is huge in every life, whatever we may sometimes pretend on the surface.

         That is why “forgiveness” is such a huge item in our religion. True forgiveness restores broken relationships. A lot of counterfeit variations merely smear platitudes over the wounds, but true forgiveness is a total restoration of broken trust. In the Christian Story, there is a Cross at the center of this reconciliation – this restoration of trust between us and God. It is a heavy price to pay. But the loss of the relationship is also a heavy price to pay. At this point, we are already “way beyond our pay scale,” as we sometimes say.

         If one of the biggest questions in life is, “How much do we trust God?” – then sometimes we might also ask, “How much does God trust us?” Some think the answer is, “Not very much.” But the entire history of our religion suggests otherwise. In general, I suspect that God trusts us too much and we trust God too little. But we can talk about that some other time.

         Back to our Scripture passage for a bit. You will think I am changing the subject, but do not conclude that too quickly. There is nothing in this Scripture passage, or indeed anywhere else in John’s Gospel, which makes me think that John (or Jesus) is trying to equate Jesus with God – meaning, that they are one and the same being. “The Father and I are one.” (verse 30) Identical identity is not implied. They are one in purpose; one in will; one in approach; one in viewpoint. But the whole passage is talking about a unity between Jesus and God that is all the more impressive because they are in relationship: a relationship between Father and obedient Son. In short, the trust between Jesus and God is astounding – the most trust we have ever seen or even imagined between a human being and God since the world began.

         Such unity – such oneness – is almost beyond belief. Yet that is the very point of this passage. Who among us deeply and truly believes that we can get this close and stay this close with God?! One in purpose; one in goal; one in methodology and approach. Jesus spends so much time in prayer that He wants what God wants and He believes in what God is doing. Indeed, Jesus’ deeds reveal the will and purpose of God. Is that a problem in your life – trying to believe in what God is doing? It often shakes me to the core, admitting what I see and expect life to be like here and then comparing that to what God seems to be working for – to what God thinks is possible.

         In any case, for those who have trouble being literalistic about such a passage, do you remember what Jesus said about marriage? “But in the beginning, at the creation, God made them male and female. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Mark 10:6)

         I have been married for fifty-nine years. Some of you will consider that reason enough to disregard some of the things I said last week about miracles. But are Mariana and I now identical? Do you have trouble telling us apart? I can show you astrologically that we started out with wider differences than most couples have, and perhaps a greater fascination went with that. In any case, we still have many minor differences of opinion, and we approach nothing in the same manner. Yet there is a unity now that I would not have believed possible in the first thirty or forty years. Unity is not sameness. Unity is far greater and more important than that. The passage does not mean that Jesus is God. What is incredible and meaningful and truth enough to save us is that when He walked among us, Jesus trusted God – clear to the Cross and beyond.

         TRUST is at the core and center of every genuine relationship. I think the most important thing a parent can do for their child is to believe in them. I think a lot of the power in what we mean when we say that “God loves us” is that God in Christ Jesus believes in us. You do not go to the Cross because of sentiment or showmanship. You go to the Cross because you believe in people so much that you are ultimately unwilling to let them go – unwilling to go on without them. Can we say that about anyone? “If you want me, they come too. That’s the deal.” Maybe this is what you mean by love, but it is not what love means to very many people in our world. I think it is crystal clear that this is what Jesus means by love. It is why I follow Him. I hope it is why you follow Him. And it is what I hope our faith family wants to be about more and more as we go. But you see, it cannot be – it cannot be possible – unless we come to trust God far more than we do at present, and far more all the time.

         So I have dared to ask you: What would your life be like if you suddenly found that your trust in God took a dramatic boost – had a significant increase? What if we stopped feeling any need to protect ourselves from disappointment or betrayal? What if something inside us suddenly said, “I am through being tentative or cautious. I have seen enough. Come what may, wrong or right, I am in all the way. God is my God. Jesus is my Savior. All the stops are pulled out. Whatever You want Lord – whatever You say.”

         I suspect that much of what ails us would be healed. Much of what feels paralyzed within us would hear Him say, “Rise and walk.” We would have a deeper comprehension of David’s song: “I will fear no evil.” I suspect that the flow of energy, of hope, of huge gratitude for LIFE all around us would increase beyond our wildest imaginations.

         The possibility that we will fail, blow it, or get into more trouble than we can handle will still be a real possibility. It is a tough and treacherous world. In my case, what if nobody really cares about a church like I think a church should be? What if we do another survey and it shows that most of the members want drumbeat music, pabulum for theology, and a human fellowship that wants to ignore the Cross and the Resurrection – and especially Pentecost?

         If we truly trust God, what can actually threaten us? Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or the sword? (Romans 8:35) The Old Pro had it right, didn’t he? His back was a mass of scar tissue, but there was still a big smile on his face. He tried to start churches and win people over when he could, but when push came to shove, he counted it all as rubbish in comparison to knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord. (Philippians 3:7)

         In any case, what do you think would happen to us – each one of us individually, but also all of us together as a church – if suddenly we got a big boost in the level of our trust in God?