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Distrust and Suspicion
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
This morning’s sermon is the second of a five part series meant to help you face tough times – and to do so with joy and confidence, not with fear and apprehension.
We all face tough times – that’s the nature of life, isn’t it? Life is tough. It’s tough for everyone!
And it’s how you get through the tough times of life – how you navigate yourself and your loved ones through them that determines just how enjoyable and worthwhile your life becomes. Let me say that again: how you navigate yourself and your loved ones through tough times determines just how enjoyable and worthwhile your life becomes.
I’ve counseled hundreds of persons who’ve told me that their lot in life is considerably tougher than most. And they seem…
And, yes, sometimes, after listening to their stories, I’ll find myself agreeing with them: it does indeed seem that they’ve been allocated a disproportionate share of tough circumstances. But I’ve also been privileged to know scores of persons burdened with circumstances a lot tougher than even theirs, but…
Some people are broken by tough times.
Others, however, shine during tough times. It’s not that they escape its pain and grief; it’s not that they don’t occasionally give themselves over to a few tears; it’s that…
And when they emerge from it, they’re winners; they’re able to find enjoyment wherever they turn; their eyes are bright and full of life. They’re better and stronger because of it.
About twenty years ago, I met a man whose impact on my life has been immeasurable. And as I get older, I find myself thinking a lot about him. His name was Sam Sasser. I say “was” because Sam passed away about five years ago.
Sam had been an outstanding college baseball player; and during his senior year he’d been recruited by the Saint Louis Cardinals to play ball for one of the Cardinals’ triple A clubs – with a promise that he’d be brought up to the majors within a year or so. But he turned his back on a professional baseball career and instead became a missionary to the Marshall Islands. Thousands of Marshall Islanders turned to Christ because of his efforts – including the President and scores of legislators and cabinet officers; and to this day his name is revered there. It’s quite literally a household word.
While there, however, Sam injured his legs on a toxic coral reef – this big, rugged, hunk of a man; and over time, his legs began to wither. Eventually he was forced to use crutches – and not long after that, he found himself confined to a wheel chair.
Just before he lost complete use of his legs, I caught up with him at a missions conference in the Bay Area. Sam was teaching a series of classes on the joy of salvation. After one of his classes, he and I shared a cup of coffee together. I told him about all my troubles – the tough times I was facing – a tale of woe and self-pity. Not once, however, did Sam reprove me for lack of faith. Instead, he patiently listened and quietly encouraged me.
After about thirty minutes – realizing he had to get back to the class he was teaching and that I’d dominated the conversation with all my complaints – I asked him about himself. He told me of his desire to revisit the Marshall Islands and about a new series of sermons he was putting together. At that point, we ran out of time. And Sam hobbled off.
After Sam left the table, one of the conference organizers, another friend of mine, sat down with me. “Did Sam tell you about his legs,” he asked, “or about his sight?”
“No,” I answered. “Not a word.”
“That’s just like Sam,” he said. “Nonetheless, I think you should know, since you’re his friend, that his legs are probably going to be amputated within the next year or so; and within two years at the most he’ll be blind as well. The poison, you know – it’s that awful coral reef poison. It has spread throughout his whole body. The doctors haven’t been able to stop it. He’s in constant pain.”
I was thunderstruck. Our conversation should have been the other way around: he should have been complaining to me and I should have been comforting him. But that never occurred to Sam. It’s not that, if asked, Sam would have held back from telling me about his legs and his eyesight. It just never occurred to him. That’s not where Sam lived. And that’s because Sam knew how to navigate his way through tough times; and instead of being broken by tough times, he was ennobled by them; he was enlarged by them. Is that the way it is for you? I know that I frequently come up short. How about you?
No, it’s not the circumstances we face that determine our outlook on life; it’s how we face those circumstances.
That’s why Hebrews 12:1 is so important. It tells us how to get through tough times – and come out a winner.
… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
We’re told here that facing tough times is like running a long distance race. That’s what the word “endurance” implies. The Bible, in other words, doesn’t liken tough times to a quick sprint that’s over in ten or twenty seconds.
Time and effort – that’s the first bit of advice the Bible provides. Prepare yourself to invest lots of time and effort. You’re not going to come out a winner unless you buckle yourself down for a long haul that will occasionally prove to be very grueling.
And that’s hard for us to do, isn’t it? Why? It’s not that we can’t do it – that it’s too taxing – that we’re not up to it. It’s that we’ve become addicted to “quick-fixes.”
We exhaust ourselves chasing after quick-fixes – and then, all too frequently, we’re disappointed – because that’s what quick fixes do: they almost always leave us disappointed – and that disappointment only exacerbates our pain and grief.
Don’t go chasing after quick fixes; buckle yourself down for a long haul – and steel yourself for a grueling race, but a race that can mold and shape you into a winner.
Next, we’re told to run the race that’s set before us. It’s not the race we’d like to run; it’s the race that’s set before us.
So many of us won’t face up to the real bogeyman in our lives.
It’s the race that’s set before us. It’s not the race we’d like to run, but the race we’ve been told to run. Stop trying to evade the race that has been set before you – whatever it is. Stop trying to ignore it. Gird up your mind and heart – and, then, face it. That’s the second bit of advice Hebrews 12:1 provides. Pretty good, down-to-earth, nitty-gritty advice, isn’t it?
The next bit of advice is just as down-to-earth and just as nitty-gritty.
That’s the meaning of the phrase “…let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us…”
The weights and sins mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 are not two distinct items; in a very real sense, they’re flip sides of the same coin: a weight is a sin; and a sin is a weight. But one is an attitude; the other is a concrete offense the attitude produces.
The Bible tells us that sin produces five sets of perverting attitudes – five different weights that can slow us down and keep us from winning whatever race lies before us – whatever it might be...
What are those five perverting attitudes?
Each set is described in detail throughout the scriptures, but very graphically in the Book of Leviticus – the third book of the Old Testament following Genesis and Exodus.
Last week we examined guilt and condemnation. This week, we’re going to be taking a look at distrust and suspicion.
A few years before Pastor Jerry Axtell died – he was one of New Hope’s founding pastors – I drove up to Woodleaf with him to watch him supervise a ropes course for a group of teenagers from “ghetto land” in South-Central Los Angeles.
A ropes course is very simple: you’re strapped into a harness and told to climb up a post or a tree to a small platform usually about fifty or sixty feet off the ground – sometimes more. Fifty or sixty feet off the ground! That’s pretty scary. But there’s more. Once you’re up off the ground and on the platform, you’re told to grab hold of a rope dangling there and use it to swing over to another platform attached to another post or tree – again about fifty or sixty feet off the ground – sometimes more. And often there’s a whole series of platforms that comprise the course, not just one or two.
Before we got to Woodleaf, Jerry told me to keep my eyes open. “You’re going to surprised, Doug,” he said. “So watch closely.”
When we got to the ropes course site, there were about fifteen or twenty scruffy-looking teenagers standing around. They were all strutting and swaggering. Jerry gathered them all together – and explained the course to them. He pointed to a small platform fifty feet or so above their heads – and told them that’s where they were going; then he pointed out the rope dangling in front of the platform and just above it: “Grab hold of that rope with both hands,” Jerry told them, “and hold on just as tight as you can; then step off the platform and swing over to that other platform about twenty feet away.”
Their swagger vanished. A few of them began to moan – and some of them began to curse quietly under their breath. Bear in mind now: these were street hardened kids out of South-Central L.A.
Jerry, of course, heard their moans and whispered curses. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“You’re crazy, man,” one of them said. “What do ya want to do? Kill us?”
“Of course not,” Jerry replied, “You’re not in any danger.” Then he pointed to three camp counselors standing quietly over to one side. “You’re going to be strapped into the harness I’m holding here in my hands – and the counselors over there will have hold of a rope controlling it; if you slip, they’ll catch you. There’s no danger you’ll fall all the way to the ground and hurt yourselves. You’re safe.”
“Oh no, man,” they all said, “We’re not going.”
Just then, fifteen clean-cut teenage girls walked up. Suburbanites every one! “How about you girls?” Jerry asked. “You want to try?”
“Sure,” they said, “it looks like fun.” One after another, Jerry strapped them into the harness; and one after another they scrambled up to the first platform – grabbed hold of the rope and swung over to the next platform – and so on until they reached the last platform completing the whole course – all fifteen of them.
The kids from South Central LA were stunned; but more than just that: they were humiliated. Fifteen squeaky clean teenage girls from the suburbs had shown them up. Then Jerry gathered them together and said, “Look, guys, it’s not that those girls are more courageous than any of you; it’s that they’re more trusting. They don’t doubt that we’ll catch them if they slip; but you do. That’s the difference. That’s the only difference between you and them”
Do you see the point Jerry was making? What frequently passes for courage is nothing more than trust.
What kept those tough South-Central LA teens from facing up to and mastering the ropes course Jerry had laid out for them is exactly what’s keeping so many of you from facing up to and mastering your own “ropes course” – whatever it might be:
It’s distrust and suspicion!
Distrust and suspicion arise within anyone who feels...
Anyone dogged by distrust and suspicion makes security his primary concern. He avoids risk at all costs. And that generates a profound impact upon his psyche.
That’s what distrust and suspicion do. But how do we get rid of distrust and suspicion? How can trust be restored so that the debilitating, damaging effects of distrust and suspicion can be eliminated? The answer is provided for us in the second chapter of Leviticus – where the “Grain Offering” is described.
The Grain Offering is based on a ritual common to many pre-modern societies. Most pre-modern societies in the ancient Middle East lacked an effective central government able to provide day-to-day protection for its subjects – especially its weaker subjects. Consequently, it was common for a weaker subject, called a “vassal,” to bind himself contractually to a stronger subject, called a “lord.” The lord would provide the vassal his protection; and the vassal, in turn, would “serve” the lord – meaning he would provide for his lord’s daily sustenance – a specified amount of his crop or a portion of the goods he manufactured – ideally, from ten to thirty percent.
The relationship was frequently confirmed in a simple ritual undertaken at the beginning of each year. The ritual was called a “grain offering.” The vassal would bring his lord a token of his promised service – often in the form of a few grains of wheat or barley – and lay it at his lord’s feet – and then swear his loyalty for the upcoming year. The lord, in turn, would swear his protection to the vassal.
However, if the vassal failed to serve his lord faithfully, the contract was broken and the vassal could no longer expect his lord to protect him. He was on his own – left to fend for himself – using whatever meager resources he might be able to muster.
And that’s exactly what sin does? Sin ruptures the lord/vassal contract between man and God – and it’s a rupture that we painfully feel – some more so than others. It’s an agonizing, terrifying sense that resonates throughout our whole psyche – leaving us feeling unprotected, at risk, and vulnerable – and exposed to the crippling effects that kind of feeling invariably produces.
But Christ’s death on the Cross heals that rupture – and restores the lord/vassal contract between man and God – entitling us once again to God’s protection – always and forever. It leaves us feeling...
And not only does Christ’s death restore the contract, it upholds and maintains it as well. Our sins – however scarlet they might be – however heinous and despicable – can no longer cut us off from God’s sovereign protection. Why? Because...
God now stands guard over our soul. All his power and authority are arrayed in our behalf. He has put his mark on us – and has declared us off limits to the devil and his demonic hosts.
If only you’ll let that truth sink down into your soul; if only you’ll wrap your mind and heart around it,
There’s no need for anyone who has put his trust in Jesus Christ to cling any more to distrust and suspicion - making security his top priority. God is on our side. So…
Lay aside all the distrust and suspicion that’s weighing you down and keeping you from being a winner. Trust in God. He’s standing guard over you. Run with abandon whatever race is set before you. God is running alongside you. Oh what a mighty revival that will produce in your life. The knowledge that God is your protector; that he’s watching out for you; that nothing can separate you from his love. It was that kind of soul stirring knowledge that prompted Paul the Apostle to write:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
No, in all of this we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.