When my mom asked me to give the message this week, I agreed before I knew what the topic was going to be. I was pleased when I discovered that this year’s VBS focused on trusting in God. Being a new father myself, this is a very important subject to me. I hope we can prepare our little boy, Knox, to develop his own trust in God to help guide him through the stages on life’s way.
As a child, it was easier for me to fear God than to trust God. On the one hand, I understood God to be as loving as my parents; on the other, God was capable of inflicting punishment on non-believers infinitely worse than what any human could do to another. This was my own child mind trying to make sense of what was then a terrifying reality that I had to come to terms with.
Our approach to helping our children interpret bible stories can impact the way they trust God in their present state of mind and in the future, especially when they start to take ownership for their own beliefs. As children, we’re taught not to trust strangers and at the same time we’re being introduced to an uncreated creator who can somehow be experienced apart from the five senses. In our early life, God is more of a concept or an idea. My little niece, Elle, believes her dad is God and that he is responsible for the beautiful world we live in, the sun, the moon and the stars. She believes this because any concept of father is inextricable from her own experience.
When we’re children, stories help introduce us to the idea of a divine creator and then we’re taught to develop our own relationship with God through prayer, reading the Bible, going to church and talking about spirituality with others. In our early years, God’s existence is unquestionable, and getting to know God is experienced as a process. Little do we know at such a young age that it’s a lifelong process, with great challenges and breakthroughs to continually try to make sense of in the context of our own unfolding.
If you read the message boards on the Internet today, God is more often viewed as the perpetuated delusion of religious fanatics intent on imposing their beliefs on others, causing much of the conflict in the world today. Many of these people went to church and feel they were deceived. Rather than having a relationship with the source of all life that can sustain them through all life’s trials, they look down on those naïve enough to believe in fairy tales – as if they are wise enough to make sense of the mysteries of the universe and religious people have been duped. For many of us here today, nothing makes sense apart from God and I wonder how people find meaning without recognizing a higher power.
While people should question the Christian explanation for the meaning of life and decide for themselves, a fully experienced trust in God lies beyond all language and logic in the individual– it’s untouchable. This type of trust is as valuable as anything that can be attained in life and it’s a treasure I am fortunate enough to possess that I desire for my own children.
What I love about the VBS content this summer is that the kids are being taught that God is worthy of our trust regardless of who you are, how you feel, what people do, where you are, and whatever happens. In this service, let’s take a quick look at the 5 Bible Points from the VBS program this week to see how we can use this information to develop a deeper sense of trust ourselves.
Point 1 – No Matter Who You Are Trust God
Key Verse – “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Key Story – Matthew 8:5-13
This exchange between the Roman centurion and Christ is only a few verses, but I remember spending much of a class in seminary discussing the significance of this exchange. This was a non-Jewish soldier in the army of occupation. There would have been uncomfortable relations between Jewish people and the occupiers. The centurion recognized that Christ would have been defiled by entering a gentile home and healing his servant, but he didn’t see this conflict of interest as something insurmountable. He understood Christ’s authority and trusted that Christ could accomplish the healing by simply willing it, and it was done.
No matter who you are trust God. What I like most about this statement is that it is all-encompassing. Whether you’re an Amnesty worker in Syria right now (any person in Syria right now, for that matter) or an inmate waiting on death row, God is there for you. It doesn’t matter what your cultural background is, your ethnicity, your family history, your employment status and income, your sexual orientation, your religion, you can trust God.
The centurion had many reasons to believe that Christ would turn him away based on who he was, but he didn’t overthink it. And neither should we.
Point 2 – No Matter How You Feel Trust God
Key Verse – “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.” (John 14:1)
Key Story – Jesus brings Lazarus back to life. (John 11)
I’m not going to read the whole chapter, but here are the main points in a nutshell:
-Jesus and the disciples are across the Jordan, when they receive a message that Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is ill. Jesus remains there for 2 more days after hearing the news.
-Jesus and his disciples are aware that if they return to Judea to heal Lazarus they may be stoned by the Jews. Jesus makes it very clear to his disciples that he is aware that Lazarus already died, but there is an important lesson to be learned by going.
-When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he is aware that Lazarus has been in the tomb four days. Martha runs out to greet him while Mary stays home. When Christ says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again . . .” Martha mistakenly believes Christ is referring to the resurrection of the dead. When Christ talks to Mary, it is clear that Mary believes that Lazarus could have been saved if Christ arrived when he was still alive. It’s inconceivable to everybody that a dead person could be healed.
-Christ then does the impossible and raises Lazarus from the dead.
I can imagine multiple sermons being needed to cover this chapter. There’s a great deal going on here, from the name “Lazarus” to the symbolic significance, the theology, and even the foreshadowing of Christ’s own death and resurrection. In the key verse from John 14:1, the Greek word for trust is “pisteuo.” (pist-yoo-o). This word is used over 90 times in John’s gospel. Literally, it means “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.”
This verse is asking us to put our trust—our confidence—in God before our feelings, which can be quite difficult to do. Have you ever been so spiritually shaken that there’s nothing you can do to find comfort? You try to listen to music, watch a movie, read a book, go for a walk, get together with friends, but nothing is helping. It’s difficult to intellectually separate from one’s feelings and just trust that things will work themselves out in the end, but when there is no immediate solution it’s often the best thing we can do. Don’t let your hearts be troubled.
It’s easy to trust God when you‘re outdoors having fun, spending time with friends and family, feeling productive and enjoying prosperous times, but when you’re out of money and prospects it’s a lot more difficult. Or when you’re being dragged through a painful divorce. Or when illness enters the picture in your family. Or when you turn on the news and see people’s freedoms violated and their way of life crushed and endless slaughter. The pain of life is meant to affect us. However, I trust there’s wisdom and spiritual significance to being exposed to volatility, chaos and decay and it’s easy to fall into the temptation to hold God responsible for everything. What does God have to with the inhumanities being committed, corruption, war, poverty, animal abuse, ecological destruction, natural disasters . . . let alone our personal struggles?
While we should be affected and we should care about what’s going on in this world, we can’t let our hearts be troubled to the point where we give up and stop doing what’s in our control to better our own communities. The 19th century philosopher, Kierkegaard, defined sin as despair. Regardless of your predicament or how you are affected by the destruction around you, to allow yourself to sink so far into your feelings that you no longer trust God only compounds your suffering.
Point 3 – No Matter What People Do Trust God
Key Verse – “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Key Story – Jesus is arrested and put on trial. (Matthew 26:36-27:31)
It seems to me that a great deal of people love to judge others, especially anonymously. The Internet term right now for people blindly following one-sided reporting is sheeple. They eat up propaganda and gossip like they’re at a dessert table. Just look at all the anti-Islam sentiment out there right now. Or the racial tension caused by the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin reporting. When a celebrity or public figure has some type of misstep, the sheeple join in the stone throwing and mud-slinging as fast as the news breaks. Tom Cruise receives surprise divorce papers from his wife, and all the sudden he’s the subject of ridicule in all the tabloids for his scientology and bedroom problems. Jonathon Vilma files a defamation suit against the NFL to protect his reputation when he’s already guilty of paying out bounties for injuring players in the court of public opinion. With such negative attention being directed their way—perhaps unjustly—do they continue to trust God?
Sticking with football, there was a top high school recruit named Brian Banks who was charged with forcing himself on his girlfriend while on campus. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was told by his attorney that he was looking at forty years if he didn’t plead guilty. The girl who had him charged was reluctant to come forward with the truth because she had received a 1.5 million settlement from the school. After five years, she met with him and agreed to tell the truth, although she wasn’t prepared to give back the money.
This is an excerpt from Les Carpenter’s article on Yahoo Sports:
Banks admitted there was a time when he was angry. It came after his conviction when the overwhelming feeling of unfairness tumbled on top of him. It’s an anger anyone would have had. Imagine starting a prison sentence for a crime you didn’t commit and no one seemed to care.
“I had the big question of why?” he said. “But I realized sitting in the cell with all those negative thoughts: What does all that do for me? It doesn’t do any good to have anger for the judge or the girl or at anyone.
“It kept me stagnant.”
He paused for a moment.
“You know, there really is no method to this – to me not going crazy,” he continued. “It’s making a decision of, what can you do for yourself? You can do nothing or you can take on the challenge of taking on the adversity. You have got to have faith. You have to have faith in whatever you believe in. For me it was a faith in God and that there was a reason for this. There had to be a reason for this.”
In my theology, God had nothing to do with the circumstances that led Brian to being falsely imprisoned. People were responsible for everything he endured. The system let him down. But you have to admire his maturity and forgiveness—his overall perspective of the injustice he suffered. Brian learned to trust God in those conditions and he now has multiple offers to go to training camps in the NFL. There’s little doubt Brian can see a reason behind the pain he went through, and he has demonstrated to us that those who put their trust in the Lord will find new strength, even when it seems like everybody is against you. Never was this better exemplified than in the trial of Christ, where an innocent man was condemned as a criminal.
Point 4 – No Matter Where You Are Trust God
Key Verse – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Key Story – Jesus makes a beachside breakfast for his friends. (John 21:1-14)
When Jesus makes a beachside breakfast for his friends, the disciples had been fishing all night long without any success. They listen to Jesus’ suggestion to cast their nets on the other side of the boat despite not recognizing him. Again, this is a passage we discussed in seminary because of the absurdity of moving the nets to the other side of the boat and expecting different results. It doesn’t make any logical sense since they’re still fishing the same water. Yet something compelled them to do it, and they were rewarded with a boatload of fish. Scholars sometimes refer to chapters 21 and 22 as the epilogue or postscript of John, and interestingly, there is some debate about whether this content was added later. Many scholars argue that John is still the writer, since the text appears to be a firsthand account and both James and John, the sons of Zebedee, aren’t even mentioned.
I like to watch shows about survival situations and I try to think about what I’d do in a similar circumstance. Les Stroud, otherwise known as Survivorman, often talks about people leaving the hiking trail for whatever reason and getting turned around. It’s the panic that leads them to become even more lost as they frantically look for something that feels familiar. The elevated blood pressure, the panic stops them from making sound decisions, so they make their situation worse. Anthony Hopkins, in the Edge, one of my favourite movies, says that most people lost in the wilds die of shame. They ask: What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives. Thinking. . .”
Trusting God regardless of where you are suggests physically being in a certain place or situation, but it can also apply to where you’re at spiritually. Some people experience some concerns about their faith and let their spiritual lives die to shame rather than trusting God and embarking on the spiritual quest they’re being beckoned to take. In other words, they’re passing up on their opportunity to save their faith through thinking. Be strong and courageous. No matter where you are physically, emotionally, spiritually, trusting God can only benefit you. For the disciples who were fishing that morning it meant a bountiful catch, breakfast cooked for them over an open fire, and the revelation of a lifetime.
Point 5 – No Matter What Happens Trust God
Key Verse – “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38)
Key Story – Jesus dies and comes back to life. (Matthew 27:32-28:20)
Trusting in God doesn’t suggest inaction. Christ’s passion meant that he continued his ministry knowing that he was going to die. If you’re unemployed, there is no conflict between actively pursuing opportunities and trusting in God. However, trusting in God doesn’t mean that the outcome is going to be favourable to you. Even Christ said in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
Earlier in this sermon, I talked about a trust in God that lies beyond all language and reason, yet most of these points address elements of trust that we can consciously make a decision to pursue. Trusting God no matter what happens can be experienced unconsciously and apart from volition, which is something I discovered when I was 18.
When my friends and I used to go to a cottage in Parry Sound, we’d get together with some local girls to party. One night we were there, the girls insisted on being taken home right away. Our driver had been drinking excessively, and it was obvious by the way he was crying that he had emotional problems. He was upset because none of the girls gave him any attention, and there was nothing we could do short of wrestling him to the ground and hogtying him if we were to pry the keys away from him and keep him out of the driver’s seat. I was faced with a decision: stay and be safe and not be able to live with myself if the girls were killed, or go with them.
It was the scariest drive I have ever been on. I was in the front cab beside the driver. As he wiped away tears, he drove at 140 km on gravel roads and fish tailed around every bend. It’s the one time I hoped to see a police car behind us. I was sure we were going to die. The girl beside me squeezed my hand like she sensed the same thing. Then I had a moment. I had a realization come over me that the universe cared about me, and whether I died or lived at this point was beyond my control. It wouldn’t have changed the most likely outcome of death if we had crashed at that speed, but the peace I felt in my heart cannot be described and it cannot be challenged.
So when Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most intelligent person in the world, says, “There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe” it has absolutely no bearing on my faith. My own experience tells me otherwise. My trust is unassailable. I, too, am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
This is why I am so impressed with VBS’ program this summer. Our approach to helping our children interpret bible stories impacts the way they trust God in their present state of mind and in the future. It is my hope that all children can grow up trusting God, not fearing God, so they too can be convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
My parents taught us very little about hell and never emphasized it, but I was a sensitive child. Lazarus and the Rich Man, the portrayal of the devil in flames in cartoons, conversations with other kids . . . all these things forced upon me the need to develop a VERY sincere faith at a young age. But what I really needed to alleviate my angst was for an adult I respected to tell me that no such literal destination for souls existed.
It’s difficult as parents to teach trust in God because on the one hand we teach our children not to trust strangers and at the same time we’re trying to instill confidence in an uncreated creator who can be experienced without being seen or heard. It’s hard to be personal with an idea. I think this is why many children focus more on fearing the consequences of failing God than trusting in his love. Hell was a very real place for me in my early development. The potential punishment is more meaningful than the benefits of unconditional love because consequences are the foundation for moral development and tie in with spirit growth.
When I consider all the kids born into this world in a billion of different circumstances, it’s interesting to think that each child has to find his or her own way to develop a relationship with God where trust can blossom. In my opinion, trust in God is not intellectual, and it’s not a decision – it’s a deep expression of one’s soul that is shaped by knowledge, experience and intuition. This can allow someone to look at a a personal tragedy and say it is well with my soul and mean it. However, acquiring this trust has an intellectual component that is shaped by the stories and lessons we share with our children.
I don’t think we can blame God for natural disasters because we live in a self-sustaining system. Natural disasters always happen for a reason, they just aren’t always predictable.