Most days I’m a good uncle. I wasn’t always a good uncle though. Through many mistakes, I learned how to become a good uncle to my nephews. This is what commitment provides. Commitment does not create skills, or make you the best uncle, wife or doctor. But commitment provides the space to do so. Being a good uncle, a good mom/dad, being a good anything to anyone, it all takes time and effort. It takes time and effort because those things are hard. And with anything that’s hard, we’re going to make mistakes.
I’ve made a number of mistakes as an uncle, but none as regretful as this one. I try not to live my life regretting things, but I’ve cried over the fact that I’ve done this to my nephews. What is it that I regret so badly? My biggest regret is not keeping my promises. Ever since my nephews were young, I’ve promised them that we would do things together. I would say things like, “Hey, let’s go to Dave and Busters on Saturday” or “just wait, this Saturday I’ll cook you guys something yummy.” And I loved how their eyes would light up and how they would look at each other and shout, “Yay! Dave and Busters! You’re the best samchon (uncle)!”
Come Saturday, I’d be pretty tired from working and going to school. But surely as the sun rises, they’d ask me, “Samchon, when are we going to Dave and Busters? And surely as the sun rises, I’d say, “Oh. I’m tired. Let’s go next time.” And the next time they’d ask me, “when are we going to eat dinner?” Like clockwork I’d respond, “Hey, I don’t think today’s a good day, let’s eat something better next time.” And it broke my heart every time I saw their heads drop and tell that little lie, “It’s okay.”
We’ve all had these kinds of experiences where we’ve been let down by someone. People break their promises all the time. Sometimes it’s you who breaks the promise. And whether it’s you or your friend or your pastor who breaks the promise, the one sure thing is that it damages your relationship. Now whenever I promise my nephews to do something, they don’t get excited. They don’t trust my word. And it saddens me every time I think about it.
We all make promises and we all know that promises are meant to be kept.
BREAKING PROMISES BREAKS RELATIONSHIPS
When we break promises, we break trust in the relationship, putting the relationship in danger of falling apart. Have you had a relationship fall apart because of a broken promise? This break is most obvious when we make promises to businesses, also known as contracts. When we make that promise to be in that two-year cell phone plan, if we break our promise and decide to leave, there’s a penalty! When we break our promise of not paying our house mortgage on time, guess what, now you’re homeless! Or when a husband breaks his promise, that vow he made on his wedding day—to solely love his wife.
Breaking promises breaks relationships.
And no relationship has been broken more than our relationship with God. After the preacher speaks, we pray, “God I commit to you. I promise to do better.” Or at the retreat we say, “God I promise to love you forever.” Or when we pray, “God if you do this for me one time, I promise I’ll…”
What promises have you made to God? Have you kept your word?
The reality is that the next week, the next moment even, we forget our promise and injure our relationship to God.
And you should be ashamed of all those broken promises and all the people you’ve hurt. We’ve hurt so many people that Jesus said to not make promises at all, but to:
37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:37).
Now are promises evil? No. By no means. Promises are good and necessary for our unpredictable lives. It’s only through promises that we are able to be grounded in this shaky world and live with some sort of certainty and have comfort about the future. Promises are not evil. It is our inclination to make promises that we cannot keep that is evil. We are limited beings. We cannot control what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know what’s going to change. I believe we genuinely believe we’re going to fulfill our promises, but situations change, our emotions change, people change.
But promises do not change. Promises are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. That’s what makes promises so good: they are steady, they ground us in times of uncertainty and they give us hope for the future. Promises are good, and we need them.
GOD MAKES PROMISES
And that’s why our God makes promises with us. In the beginning when everything started, when God made the heavens and the earth, the stars and the sky, the sun and the moon, and me and you, God in this act of creation promised to be our God, God promises that me, you, everything is good, and promised to take responsibility for creation.
In the story of Noah, after the flood subsided, God promises, covenanted, that no longer would God punish the entire world for its unrighteousness and wickedness via flood.
In the story of Abraham, God promises, covenants, that God will make Abraham into a great nation and make Sarah fruitful, to be able to bear a son and multiply greatly, more than the stars in the sky. In the story of David, God promises, covenants to make David and his family into kings and to sustain the house of David forever.
We see God making promises to us throughout the entire Bible. And we see that our God has kept every single one of those promises and continues to do so.
But like I said, promises are a two-way street. God makes us all these good promises, but what does God ask for in return? If you look at each of those covenants, God asks of the same thing every time.
In the creation story, after God creates Adam and Eve and thereby promises to be their God and that all is good, God blesses them and tells them their end of the deal:
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28)
And in the story of Noah, after God favored Noah and spared His life and promised to never again to flood the earth to destroy it, the story tells us:
“God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Gen 9:1)
And in the story of Abraham, God says to Abraham during the covenant of circumcision:
“I am God Almighty, walk before m and be blameless.” (Gen 17:1b)
“that I may make my covenant with you and multiply you greatly.” (Gen 17:2)
“I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” (Gen 17:5-6)
And in the story of David, after choosing David to be King God says:
“I will set up your seed after you…and I will establish His kingdom” (2 Sam 7:12).
God promises David to make His seed, his family, fruitful and to multiply them into a great kingdom. God has promised us life, salvation and dominion over the earth, what has God asked of us? To obey God in being fruitful and multiply.
Unable to Keep Our Promises to God
We’ve all tried to be fruitful and multiply though, haven’t we? We’ve tried to keep our promises to God, to obey God, to be nice to our neighbors and to pray everyday. Only to find ourselves later giving up, ending up fruitless and alone. And we continue this endless cycle of trying to bear fruit for God, wondering why we are fruitless.
But we can only bear fruit if we are connected to the vine. Jesus says:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, we can’t even keep our stinking promises. Over and over we’ve failed at obeying God and keeping God’s commands. But I come bearing good news: the Good News is that though we are unable to fulfill our old promises, the old covenant with God, through Jesus Christ God has made a New Covenant—one that relies not on our obedience, but the perfect obedience of Christ which is given to us by grace.
So we see in Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.”
And in Romans 11:6 it tells us, salvation no longer depends on works, but by grace alone.”
Through grace Christ overcomes our inability to commit by unconditionally covenanting with us.
Yoked to Christ
Does this mean that we are set free to do whatever we want and that our actions no longer matter? By no means! Don’t you get it? A covenant is a binding treaty between two parties. The covenant is the instrument used to bind us, to unite us, to yoke us to Christ.
Now a yoke is a wooden bar placed over the neck of a pair of animals so they can pull together; what unites (joins) two people to move (work) together as one.
And this word yoke is most famously heard in Matthew 11:28-30 when Jesus says:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Only when we are yoked to Christ can our souls rest. Like I said, a yoke is a wooden bar that unites two people. The yoke of Christ is the cross. On the cross Christ took all our sins, all our failed promises and nailed them to His hands. On that rugged, wooden cross, Christ takes us, who were once broken and fallen from God and unites us back to God. And Christ does not require us to do anything to earn this promise, but because through Christ’s covenant, His commitment to us, has done this in spite of our faithlessness.
Only when we are yoked to Christ can we keep our promise to be fruitful and multiply.
Now this next fact is super important: Christ does not yoke Himself to you, Christ yokes Himself to the church. When we are yoked with Christ, we are yoked to His body, the church. That means in the church my problems are your problems, and your problems are my problems. Good for me, means good for you. Good for you, means good for me.
Brothers and sisters, we are all yoked together. When one part of the yoke does not carry it’s load, the rest of the work is harshly distributed to others. You need me and I need you. Let’s be the church.