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"Cultivate Commitment"

Mar.22, 2015 Php 4:8-20

(adapted from The Song movie event kit by Kyle Idleman; used with permission)


There are certain things in life that call for commitment. A challenge arises and, somehow deep within, you know there's just no easy way of dealing with it. You realize you're just going to have to buckle down, muster all your resources, pray hard, and tackle it head-on. You're going to have to commit yourself at a level you've never done before.

Back in 1994 I went from being a full-time pastor to half-time. I was able to supplement the halved income with some data-entry work and by heating our house with wood cut on our own lot, but neither of those were very substantial in terms of replacing the lost income. Then there arose an opportunity to serve as a military chaplain for a battalion based in Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay. That meant enrolling for the Canadian Forces. That also meant meeting their minimum physical requirements. At that point, this boiled down to being able to run 2 km in less than 22 minutes with a 40-pound packsack.

So I started to train. At first my times weren't very good - I was doing more walking than running up and down the gravel road in front of our house on the hill in Laird Township. But as the weeks went by, I was able to cover more territory before having to stop and walk. I was able to add the weighted backpack and still run the course. When the deadline arrived, I was able to meet the requirements - still no long-distance runner by a long shot mind you, but the commitment and those gruelling runs and trudges paid off.

Pastor Kyle Idleman recalls, "A couple of years ago, I decided to run a half marathon. So I promised myself I was going to get in shape, eat better, and run a lot. Fortunately, I had a lot of time before the race--almost a whole year (and I needed every bit of it). At first I was excited. I knew it was going to be challenging. I had lots of friends who had done it, and they told me it was going to be harder than I thought, but I figured I'd ease into it; it couldn't be that bad and I just had to stay on the pace I was already one. Things would be great.

"Over time, life got busier, the race began to seem a little more normal and less exciting, and the distances I had to run got longer and longer. I became more and more tired of it. It was hard work. But I'd made the promise to myself, so I had to keep going.

"Eventually, I pretty much stopped training. I had registered for the race, and it was coming up soon, but I was so tired of running, I didn't have time to do the long distances, and I figured I would start back up 'tomorrow.' That's what I figured every day.

"I ran the race. Well, I finished the race. I didn't run most of it. And I was miserable. I could hardly walk for days."

Pastor Idleman sums it up: "I made a promise, but I didn't take it very seriously. I neglected the work I needed to do to keep the promise, and it made me miserable."

What about you? Can you remember challenges in your life that required a commitment or promise on your part in order to overcome? How did you do?

Those of us who are married all enter into that arrangement with promises. That's what marriage is: a promise. And on our wedding day, we made vows to each other - commitments, promises about what kind of person we would be and how we'd love the other person. We promised we'd be there no matter what.

But what about when things get hard? What about when we just don't have time to pursue each other as we used to? When we don't have time or energy for romance anymore? When it hurts more than we thought it would? When our spouse is just...different from the person we thought we married? When the days keep going by faster and faster, and we keep thinking we'll make some changes "tomorrow"?

When it gets hard, where do the promises go? What happens to the commitment?

The vows most of us said at our weddings end up being pretty much right on. Those tests we promised to stay faithful throughout are the things that inevitably cause trouble in our marriages. Let's look back at our vows and ask how we're doing at keeping the promises we made. It's probably harder than we thought it would be. But you made the commitment to run the race, so let's talk together about what it takes to keep the promises we made and what's at stake if we don't.

Joshua challenged the Israelites about their level of commitment after leading them into the Promised Land. He said in Joshua 24:14f, "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness [we might say, with COMMITMENT].Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." What a classic call to commitment! He made the choice quite clear between the gods of the nations, or YHWH who had delivered them from slavery. Then he offered the example of his own commitment, regardless of what others decided.

So let's look at these vows we made, and perhaps identify better the "other gods" or temptations involved here. How is the Lord calling us to more thorough commitment? [REPEAT MARRIAGE VOWS AS EXAMPLE]


One of the main vows we made at our weddings was to be a wife or husband, "from this day forward, for better or worse." We made that promise, and we meant it, but there's just no way we could have understood back then all it was going to entail in the future.

When we made that promise on our wedding days, most of us were probably thinking, "How bad could 'worse' be? At least I'll be married!" But as the marriage progressed, we realized it really could get worse. Now, to be sure, a lot of marriage really is the "better" part. We like to make jokes and point out the annoying things or the hard parts, but really, a lot of the day-to-day life of marriage is "better." At those better times, it's easy to keep the promise. When everything's going great, I'll gladly be your husband/your wife. But the second things get worse - you lose a job, you get in a fight, you annoy each other one too many times, it's harder to have fun, you get too busy for date night - well, that changes it. Suddenly it's not so easy any more. You may even start asking yourself, "Just why was it I married this person anyway?!"

When things get worse, where do you turn? When things turn sour and become a challenge, what happens to your marriage?

For many couples, this general "worse" can be the root of all kinds of evil. When it feels like things are bad and commitment starts to eke away, it can lead to a "grass is always greener" mentality. Since your marriage is "worse," you start to look at other things that seem "better": you start to look for joy outside your marriage...for pleasure...for fun...for sex...ANY of these things, outside your marriage. Cuz' it sure doesn't seem to be happening with that person you said those vows to years back: they've changed - you've changed.

But before it gets to that point, back when that discontentment starts, we need to remember what the apostle Peter says about challenging times, anxiety-provoking times: 1Peter 5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on [God], because he cares for you."

You made a promise when you entered into marriage, and God values that promise. God created marriage - it's HIS idea - and he values it highly. So when you promise to do the hard work of marriage in a committed, faithful way, God doesn't stand far away with arms folded and see if you can pull it off. God will help: He cares for you.

Marriage will not always be "better" (in the words of the vow). Life happens; "worse" will come. And when it does, that doesn't mean the marriage is crumbling. It's not time to give up. You made the promise on your wedding day, and God was there, blessing your self-giving. And God will help you keep your promise.

He never said life would be easy. "Prosperity theology" may put that spin on things, but the Bible is very realistic about the problems that routinely arise in a fallen world - a world where, from the Garden of Eden on down, humans and unseen spirits have been turning their back on God the Creator. In John 16:33, Jesus predicted, "In this world you will have trouble.But take heart! I have overcome the world." No matter how bleak, how bad, how "worse" it is, we serve a God who raised His Son from the dead. In fact, the resurrection became God's "stamp of approval" - Romans 1:4 declaring with power Jesus "to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead." God turns trials into testaments to His goodness. And your marriage is never too far gone for the power of God to help.


How about the promise, "for richer or poorer"? At your wedding, you maybe chuckled when you made that vow because you had no money. But you were probably OK with that; you were young and in love, and nobody else your age had any money either. Besides, who cares about money when you're about to go on your honeymoon?

Do you remember that? Sure, we paid attention to money and tried to be responsible with what we had, but ultimately we were content. We had each other, and we trusted God to take care of the money. But it wasn't long until the bills started piling up, the needs started piling up, the cars started breaking down (like they always do), and the promise looked more and more daunting.

We thought we didn't need money and we could survive on love, and we could, for a while, but that state doesn't last forever. Reality sets in. Then fear sets in.And blame sets in...regret sets in. And before you know it, money has torn you apart. Jason Heath in a Financial Post article suggests about half of the 41% Canadian divorce rate is caused primarily by disagreements about money. He notes, "A study by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that couples who fight about money once a week are 30% more likely to end up divorced than those who disagree over money only a few times a month."

For richer, for poorer...Yes, sometimes "poorer" financially can tear couples apart. But make no mistake: you can have plenty of money and still be poor. One of those "Murphy's Laws" - the expenses and expected standard of living rise just slightly faster than any increase in actual income! The problem isn't really having a certain absolute amount of money; the problem is the role you allow money to play in your life and marriage.

In Philippians 4, we hear Paul counselling his biggest and longest-term financial supporters, the church in Philippi, about money. He urges them to follow his example, not let their stomach be their god (3:17,19), to look not only to their own interests (2:4). They don't need to be anxious about anything, but rejoice in the Lord who can give them transcending peace (4:4,6f). They can trust God to take care of them, their needs will be met. Php 4:19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Paul didn't say they would be wealthy. He didn't say they would never have money problems, or that the bills would magically go away. He implies that if you honour God with what money you have and if God, not money, is the source of your security, your contentment (4:11f) - He will take care of you.

When money becomes the focus of our lives, the savior or goal of our lives, what we're OBSESSED with - it is, frankly, idolatry. And that will kill a marriage, and a family.

When money is worshiped as an idol, it makes work a priority over family.It makes you a slave.You can never get enough.You will never be content.

John D.Rockefeller, an Ohio native, started Standard Oil (from which we get the two letters behind ESSO). Rockefeller was at one point the world's richest man and first ever American billionaire. Considering he was a billionaire in the early 1900's, he's still considered the richest person in modern history. When a reporter asked Rockefeller, "How much money is enough?" he responded, "Just a little bit more." (source)

When money is worshiped as an idol, it doesn't leave much room for God.It makes your marriage miserable.

But what's God's promise to you in Philippians 4:19? God says He'll take care of you, meet your needs through His glorious riches in Christ - no matter what your financial situation, if you faithfully follow him in everything, including your marriage. So when you promise "for richer or poorer," it's much less about the amount of money you'll have than about your attitude towards money - whether you're more committed to money (mammon, an idol) or God to meet your needs.


A third vow most of us made at our weddings was to be a loyal spouse "in sickness and in health." That's another one that's usually not too relevant when you're young and in love. You may know in your mind that your health will deteriorate, but it's hard to imagine the reality of it if you haven't been there.

What you can't imagine or plan for when health goes out the window is how it will change every aspect of your life, your routines, your days, your nights. Waking up in the middle of the night to find your spouse needing assistance. Having to help them get changed. Running them to medical appointments. When health turns to sickness, life is turned upside-down, and it gets hard. But we promised, "in sickness and in health."

When health turns to sickness, it challenges you. It challenges your willingness to serve. You have to serve with absolutely no expectation of the favour being returned. Can you do that? Maybe for a day or two, but what if it were permanent?

It challenges your humility.What kinds of things are you willing to clean up? What kinds of things are you willing to help with? Can you help her who was once a "rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys", or him who was once "a young stag" "bounding over the hills" with the most basic of bathroom needs? Hm? Think about it. Also think about them promising to do the same, or more, for you.

It challenges your commitment. The temptation comes - it's easy to say, "This isn't what I signed up for." But, in reality, it's exactly what you signed up for. You committed to this; you made the promise. Are you up for it?

While all of that's true, none of those things are challenges only when health turns to sickness. Those challenges are daily parts of a healthy, thriving, singing marriage. They may be amplified at times of ill health, but the commitment is always the same. So when you promise, "in sickness and in health," you're not promising something outlandish, statistically improbable, or unlikely. You're promising that your day-to-day service, love, and sacrifice will be so steady, so uncompromising that it won't matter whether there's sickness or health. The marriage will be unaffected.

Such steadfast servant-heartedness is empowered by the Holy Spirit bolstering us to undertake even the most unpleasant tasks for those we love. Because Jesus our Lord came amongst us not as One who "lords it over" us, but He came "as one who serves". In Luke's account of the Last Supper, right after sharing communion Jesus reminds the Twelve: Lk 22:27 "For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."

When the most difficult times come, where will you turn?

[Video Clip, Cultivating Commitment]

The very last teaching parable of Jesus we find in Matthew's account is called "the sheep and the goats". When speaking of his disciples' service to those who couldn't pay them back - those who were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison - Jesus said that whatever His followers did for even the least of those, it's as if they were doing it for Jesus himself. Mt 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" When we commit to serve those around us with uncompromising humility and sacrifice, it is as if we are serving Jesus.

Those are the promises we made. When things get hard, where do we turn? When the marriage turns from better to worse, from richer to poorer, from health to sickness, what then? Hopefully, your marriage is like the wise man in Matthew 7 who built his house upon a strong foundation, and not even a terrible storm could move it. And just what WAS that foundation Jesus referred to? Mt 7:24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." Build solid on Jesus' teaching, His instruction, His promises, His assurance He'll be with you "always, to the very end of the age" (Mt 28:26).

If you're committed to the promises you made, willing to do the daily hard work to make them a reality, and trusting Jesus to help you when the challenge seems almost too much to take - then, when race day comes, you'll be in shape and ready to run the race with perseverance, and your marriage will stand up even in the worst storms. Let's pray.