Heroes, Promise and Trust - Pete Hillman

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

It’s not all about us

Human beings are strange creatures. We seem to have an inbuilt capacity to build the universe around us so that everything in the world becomes about us. Let’s be honest, however caring and interested we are in other people the hero of our story is always us because the whole story is about us! This is our perspective and in one sense there’s no use fighting against it because it’s all a matter of how we see the world. For example, as a parent I want the best for my children. But even having that firmly in my mind I still think of my children as that, my offspring, those who will come after me. You see, however caring I am for them the perspective of the story is always me!

StarsThat’s why moments where we realise how small and insignificant we are, perhaps when we stand on top of a mountain or lie down and look at the stars, are so striking to us. It’s only at special moments, when the Holy Spirit opens up our perception, that we can join with the poet of the bible and say “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” The rest of the time our minds convince us that the world revolves not around the son (Son?) but around us.

And that’s why it’s so hard for us to think differently about our relationship with God. We reach a moment in our spiritual journey when we realise that we need to hand over control of our lives to the rightful king, to Jesus – the one who has put us right with God once and for all by his death and resurrection. We have that sudden moment of understanding that the hero of the story is not us after all, but rather him. And in the light of this revelation, this moment of self understanding, we get right with God by asking Jesus to take control. But of course just when we get it so right, just when we realise that the story is not about us and accept God’s grace and welcome him into our lives, what happens? What happens is that we make the story about us again by deciding that we need to somehow live up to the grace that God has poured out on us. We start to feel guilty for letting God down, for our rebellion, for our inability to live up to the great love that he has lavished on us and the guilt starts to get in the way of our friendship with God making us feel unworthy and unlovable. But stop! Who ever said that we were worthy of God’s love? I thought the whole point was that we are not worthy!

Promises, promises!

Who told you that God expects you be able to live a perfect life? Of course that’s his ultimate goal for you and he wants to help you along the way. But does he know you’ll screw it up, a lot? Of course he does! But remember what we said at the start, “He who promised is faithful”. Our relationship with God is entirely dependent on God’s faithfulness and can never be dependent on ours – remember, the story is not about us! Look, we always break our promises as human beings. Listen to what I promised my wife when I married her; To love her, comfort her, honour her, keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others keep me only unto her.

Now I can say hand on heart that I have kept the last one, but as for the others, of course there are times when my own selfishness kicks in and I am unloving towards her, I am rude, angry and downright unpleasant. The point is that our promises fail, we are frail and screw things up – do you think somehow God doesn’t know this about you?

BraveHeartThere is a scene in the movie Braveheart where we see William Wallace (the hero of the story) face an unknown knight. But when the knight is unmasked in the midst of battle the full horror of betrayal hits him. For this knight is a man in whom Wallace had believed and trusted, his friend and Prince, Robert the Bruce. If you get to see this film look for the look of betrayal on Wallace’s face and the shame on the face of Robert. Does this ring bells for you in your relationship with God? When you see the look of shame on the Bruce’s face is this how you feel when you stand before Jesus? Do you feel ashamed? When you see the look of astonishment and betrayal on the face of Wallace is this how you picture the face of Jesus when he looks at you? Does he shake his head and look the ground with tears in his eyes? If that’s true then you have not really understood the grace of God and the unwavering faith he places in you.

You see, when you become a Christian you promise to follow Jesus – forever. But, of course Jesus knows you won’t! He knows that within a week you will probably have broken your promise. But this is why it is so important that we understand that our relationship with God is not dependent on your promise but His!

Romans 3:22-24: “Being in a right relationship with God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for everyone has betrayed him and fall short of God’s standards, and have things put right freely by his grace, his unearned love, through the act that put everything right again that came by Christ Jesus.”

Now, none of this is to say that we should not set ourselves the goal of living in order to please God. Should we go on living in a sinful way taking God’s grace for granted? Of course not! But what is does mean is that we should live every day knowing that we are completely dependent on this grace and that, though we will no doubt let God down, he will always forgive us and our trying to please him brings him pleasure and warms his heart.

Feeling groovy?

Wedding KissSo, God’s ability to love and accept us does not depend on our ability to live up to his love and standards. Never has done, never will! But, neither does the fact of his love depend on our ability to feel and experience it. I am always amazed that so many Christians are so dependent on their feelings when it comes to their relationship with God. Maybe it’s because I am so old (ha ha!) but what I have learned about love is that it is not primarily about feelings at all. Immature love is infatuated. It is all based on feelings, it is all about the wonderful giddy sensation that engulfs us the first time we fall in love with someone. That’s not to say that feelings are not important, they are. But much more important than the feelings is what lies behind the love. What underlies it and gives it its’ expression is that most unfashionable thing, commitment. To return once again to my wedding vows, I promised all of those things not “until I stop feeling gooey and tingly wingly inside” but rather “for so long as we both shall live, till death do us part”. This is not about feelings but commitment.

God loves you, not because he feels warm and fuzzy about you, but because of his commitment to you. He loves you because He says he will. He has promised and always keeps his promises. He loves you because he chooses to love you, because He just can’t help himself and, as we’ve said so many times before, there’s nothing you can do to make him love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make him love you less. He just loves you! These are the words from Deuteronomy spoken to God’s chosen people Israel and the same sentiments are true for you.

Deuteronomy 7:7-9: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”

UnconditionalOur problem is that we just can’t get our heads around this so we trust our feelings and if we don’t feel the intensity of his love focussed on us, even though it always is, we tell ourselves that it must be because we have done something to stop him loving us (so we beat ourselves up and feel even worse) or we think that He is just as fickle as we are in our love (so we persuade ourselves that the feelings we experienced were not true in the first place.) The choice that each of us faces is whether we will depend on our own feelings, which will lie to us, or on the promises of God which require that we trust him.

Here is a quote from Brennan Manning’s amazing book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” which sums a lot of this up:

“A poet has written ‘The desire to feel loved is the last illusion: let it go and you will be free.’ Just as the sunrise of faith requires the sunset of our former unbelief, so the dawn of trust requires letting go of our craving spiritual consolations and tangible reassurances. Trust at the mercy of the response it receives is a bogus trust. All is uncertainty and anxiety. In trembling insecurity the disciple pleads for proofs from the Lord that her affection is returned. If she does not receive them, she is frustrated and starts to suspect that her relationship with Jesus is all over or that it never existed.

If she does receive consolation, she is reassured but only for a time. She presses for further proofs – each one less convincing than the one that went before. In the end the need to trust dies of pure frustration. What the disciple has not learned is that tangible reassurances, however valuable they may be, cannot create trust, sustain it, or guarantee any certainty of its presence. Jesus calls us to hand over our autonomous self in unshaken confidence. When the craving for reassurances is stifled, trust happens.” Pg 88

To finish, I was asked recently to describe my faith in 15 words or less. A tall order! What came to mind almost immediately, were the words of Karl Barth, the 20th Century’s most influential theologian. When asked for his most profound insight from a lifetime of theological reflection he replied “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” This is my faith, this is my hope, this is my trust.

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