Trust Is a Credit Card

I originally posted this essay in 2012. I’m rerunning it while I work on some freelance writing. Stay tuned for more on that!

My mother had her identity stolen recently, and she doesn’t even own a computer. Now every teller, every store clerk, every credit card company and even some casual acquaintances are suspect. Someone violated her trust, and she will not easily give it again.

Trust is earned – or is it?

“You have to earn my trust!” It’s the message Americans everywhere are sending telepathically through their television sets as our political conflicts air onscreen. Who hasn’t heard it said to them as a new driver or used that phrase to scold their own child? We want our loved ones and politicians to establish a track record that will help us believe. There’s wisdom and value in that perspective, but there’s also a problem. What is the price of trust? How much is enough to earn it?

Trust makes us vulnerable

When someone says, “Trust me,” they ask for our confidence in a way that makes us vulnerable to pain, treachery, and being made a fool. There is no trust without the possibility of loss. By “earning” our trust, we mean that someone must give us good odds before we take that bet. Like a savvy card shark at an all-night poker game, we want a sure thing. But the risk is never zero.

Trust is a credit card

Imperfect people can never be wholly trustworthy. When you earn something, you receive payment for the work you have already done, but trust is given in exchange for work you have yet to do. Trust can be enticed and invited. It can be justified or betrayed, but only in hindsight. Trust is a credit card, not a debit card; you can’t fund it upfront. We give our trust to an imperfect person with the built-in capacity to fail us. If we are going to wait until it’s been wholly earned, we will never trust anyone.

Trust considers the past

On the flip side, we are not required to trust everyone. In fact, we are warned against it in Scripture (see Psalm 118:8 or 1 Cor. 15:33, for example). If it turns out a retail company was careless with my mother’s financial information, I hope she cuts up their charge card. Trust is a resource we are expected to administer with wisdom, and that makes it more valuable. When deciding to give your trust, consider the past. But consider, too, the unearned favor that has made a difference for you. Trusting another person is always, in some measure, kindness.

Trust is grace

The next time you feel you must earn someone else’s trust, remember that it’s impossible. You are obligated to love them well regardless, but their trust will always contain an element of risk. Their trust is a form of grace. The next time you are tempted to tell someone trust must be earned, tell them, instead, trust is a gift given in imitation of Christ who risked Himself for the sake of relationship with us.

Related Resources:

Here’s an interesting sermon on the difference between faith and trust:

A blog on trust disappointed:

I would love it if you would add your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

The Samaritan and the Truth

We live in a time when Christians seem militantly concerned about the truth. What is the truth? Who is telling the truth? Who agrees with my truth? Of course, God Himself is concerned about the truth, since He invented it. But when a desire for truth causes dissension and discord among brothers and sisters, what do we prioritize? That was a problem for a contentious lawyer in the Gospel of Luke, too.

The Law

An expert in the Mosaic law approached Jesus to test Him (see Luke 10). This lawyer asked about the legal criteria for gaining Heaven, and then he answered his own question: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approved his understanding, but the man needed more information: “Who is my neighbor?”

The Good Samaritan

In response, Jesus told one of His most famous stories, the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

The lawyer to whom Jesus spoke this story sought the truth so he could act on it correctly and be assured of eternal life. Except the lawyer already knew the truth. So Jesus told him a story about something deeper than knowledge.

The Road

The men who passed by on the other side of the road were acting wisely, at least from a human perspective. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous. The bandit attack recounted in Jesus’ parable was oft repeated in real life. To stop for an unknown person along the way was to make yourself vulnerable. And to walk close to a problem, to look or listen for more than a moment, was a potential trap. The priest and Levite acted on the truth when they hurried on their way.

The Heart

The Samaritan, however, ventured close enough to see and hear human suffering. He was moved by a compassionate heart. His sacrificial acts of mercy were not done for the sake of Heaven but for the sake of a severely injured man.

Is it better to be right or to be loving? Of course, we should know the Scriptures and the world (Matt. 10:16). But cultivating mercy for the hurting and oppressed around us is even better. To act on our knowledge is often commendable, and at times it is all we have. But much more desirable, something to pray for and to work at, is to become a listening, loving person.

The Application

Christian friends, I encourage you to prayerfully apply this parable to two difficult, contemporary topics: masking and racial justice. Is your particular view of science more important than loving those who fear disease? Is your interpretation of the world more important than getting close enough to listen to your black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ? What would it mean in each of these situations to take the side of the good Samaritan rather than the side of the contentious lawyer? A voice of pain is crying out from the ditch. Don’t pass by on the other side.

Lord, bless your children with a stronger resemblance to their brother, Jesus, and help us abide always in Your love.

Related Material:

Follow Me

When Jesus asked us to follow Him through this world (e.g., John 12:26), might He have meant us to start in the stable? While nothing about us could ever be exactly the same as the Most High God-Man, His life does teach us how to live. Maybe that includes showing us how to be born.

In the beginning

The miracle of human birth is the miracle of creation. As at the beginning of the world, when a child is formed inside his mother, the Spirit hovers over a dark void, filling an empty womb with the light of life. Creation is God’s special playground and His special gift. No amount of wanting can cause a child to be unless God is willing. Biblical mothers, Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth, demonstrate that nothing is impossible with God, not even the birth of an impossible child. When Christ was conceived, the Spirit alone, in His time and His way, filled something empty with something alive.

If you know Jesus, this is how you were born, too – born again, that is. God descended on a heart that was dark and void, filling it with the light of life. No amount of wishing could make it so, but when God was willing, the Holy Spirit came upon you and the power of the Most High overshadowed you (Luke 1:35), and you became what you were not.

God chose the weak

God’s choice to create life doesn’t come only to those the world counts worthy. Jesus’ parents were poor. They weren’t married. They were insignificant in their culture. The world would judge them for having this baby. Joseph, naturally assuming he had been betrayed, sought to end their engagement quietly, but God intervened. He chose these people despite their obvious defects. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. (I Cor. 1:27-28) 

Your spiritual parents – Christ and His bride, the Church – are humble in heart and “poor in spirit” (Is. 53, Matt. 5). Your parents are only betrothed. Christ has gone to Heaven to prepare a place for His family, and when He returns, we will celebrate His marriage. In the meantime, the Church and the Spirit give birth for the Kingdom, especially among those who know they are insignificant in this world. Those of you who feel you deserve God’s love, take warning. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Those of you who feel inadequate, take heart. You are the people God desires – because His power shows up best inside the needy. (2 Cor. 12:9.)

Sons of the Most High

Jesus did not stay small and weak. The angel told Mary He would be called “holy” and “the Son of God,” unbelievable titles for a child born in a stable. From such an inauspicious beginning, Jesus grew in grace and wisdom (Luke 2:52), learning obedience from His suffering (Heb. 5:8). He was God’s only Son in a way that no one else will ever be. And yet, Scripture tell you that you, too, are a child of God (Luke 6:35, I John 3:10). From our own inauspicious beginnings, we become more like Christ each day, growing in grace, wisdom and obedience. We, too, are called “holy” and “saints,” unbelievable titles for people who began life with a stone for a heart.

Glory to God in the highest

Such generosity calls for great gratitude. John, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the angels, Simeon, Anna and the magi all reacted to God’s great gift of Jesus Christ with worship. The tremendous miracle of our new birth should provoke a response, as well. At Christmas time, when some who know no greater blessing than a short vacation are singing with joy, what will be the response of those of us who know the extremity of the miracle which has occurred – at the nativity and in our own lives? When we consider our own spiritual renewal, we might exclaim, along with Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50)

The angels sang

The angels sang when Christ was born, but in our own lives there can be seasons of silence. If, in this deadly year, God seems far away and miracles hard to come by, celebrate the magical story of the nativity. It happened once, more than 2000 years ago: the Spirit descended, life began and God was glorified. Because Christ came, dead hearts are coming alive all over the world today, following in His footsteps. If you love Him as your Savior and Lord, then it also happened to you.

And the angels sing every time (Luke 15:10).