Commitment can be a real scary word, because a commitment is a promise about the future. But in the future, things might change.
What if I promise to marry you, but then you change or I change? What if I promise to be your friend, but then I don’t feel close to you? What if I promise to follow God, but then I don’t feel like following God? We’re afraid of getting trapped.
And yet without commitments, we don’t actually have an identity. Making the right commitment in the right spirit to the right obligation, assignment, value or person is one of the most important things about being human.
- I will make appropriate changes to honor my marriage commitment.
I will make appropriate changes to honor my commitment to my children.
I will make a commitment to loyalty, challenge, truth and care in my friendships.
I will commit to being connected in community through a small group.
I will raise the standard of integrity in my business deals.
I will be “All In” when following Jesus.
Full Sermon Script:
I want to say welcome to everyone here and those who are joining us online.
We’re launching a new series today called, “All In.”
This series is about commitment. It’s about the amazing power of commitment in a human life. It’s about the nobility of being a commitment-making, commitment-honoring, commitment-keeping human being.
But I understand we live in a, “Keep your options open. Always have an exit strategy. Never get tied down,” world.
Commitment can be a real scary word, sometimes even when the commitment is a small thing.
Maybe you have conversations like this with your adult children:
“Do you want to join us for dinner tomorrow night?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Just underneath that is, “I might get a better offer. Then if I’m already committed to you, I would be missing out on that, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that.”
Or it could be a bigger deal.
“Do you want to get married?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I might get a better offer.”
Do you want to commit to God?
Do you want to commit to generosity or tithing?
Do you want to commit to serving?
Do you want to commit to a small group?
Do you want to make a commitment that if you do get married, you’ll only marry someone who shares your faith in God?
Do you want to voluntarily commit a chunk of your time in the unglamorous service of under-resourced people?
I get that making a commitment can be scary… because a commitment is a promise about the future, but in the future, things might change.
What if I promise to marry you, but then I change?
What if I promise to marry you, but then you change?
What if I promise to be your friend, but we have a fight, or I don’t feel close to you?
What if I promise to follow God, but tomorrow, I don’t feel like following God? What if tomorrow I’m not even sure there is a God.
There’s another word for uncommitted. It’s a word we all love. It’s a word we obsess over.
The word is free — “I just want to be free.”
What the commitment-phobe really has is fomo – fear of missing out. They’re afraid of missing out on something.
“As long as I’m not committed, then I’m free to do whatever I want, free to see whoever I want, eat whatever I want, buy whatever I want, say whatever I want, experience anything I desire.”
The way to be free, according to conventional wisdom, is — whatever you do, avoid commitment. Don’t be committed.
But there is a minority opinion.
In this minority opinion, commitment-makers, commitment-keepers will experience a kind of freedom that commitment-avoiders will never ever know.
The Christian writer G. K. Chesterton wrote a fabulous essay where he said:
The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. — G.K. Chesterton
In the act of commitment, I bind myself to that future moment.
I am not free to love another woman.
I am not free to spend that money however I want.
I am not free to follow another God.
And yet, somehow, those commitments lead to a deeper freedom than all of the options and escape clauses in a commitment-phobic world.
It’s the commitment maker who gains freedom to love and to grow… and to experience community and meaning.
The commitment avoider becomes a slave to whatever desire comes along, to a life of small, petty sins.
This minority opinion got expressed a long time ago.
It was Jesus who put it like this:
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” John 8:31-34
In other words, if you commit yourself to obedience, that will actually lead you into freedom to be the person God made you to be.
If you think you’re free to do whatever you want, you end up a slave to sin.
You see, making a commitment, even though it’s hard work, is nothing to be afraid of.
Making the right commitment in the right spirit to the right obligation, assignment, value or person is one of the most noble things a human being can do.
The reason we’re drawn to make commitments is that we alone, of all the creatures God made, were made in the image of a commitment-making, commitment-keeping God.
Only human beings can do this.
Only human beings can make a promise.
Only human beings can say, “I will meet you next Tuesday. I will serve on that team with you. I will keep that secret. I will be your friend. I will pray for you. I will have your back. You can count on me.”
A dog can’t make that promise. If they could, they would, and they would die to keep it, but they can’t.
A cat can’t make a promise. If they could, they would, and then they would break it, and they would laugh in your face in their quiet cat way.
People who follow God are commitment makers, because we were created in the image of a commitment-making, commitment-keeping God.
And God sets the standard for commitment.
God sets the standard for a few reasons…
The first is
God never enters a commitment in a casual way.
God never makes a quick promise for convenience sake, and then thinks to himself later on, “What was I thinking?””
God thinks very carefully before he makes a promise about what he’s committing himself to. He never enters into commitment in a casual way.
And then secondly, once God makes a commitment…
God never goes back on his word.
It doesn’t matter what the cost. It doesn’t matter how inconvenient.
God has never failed to honor a single commitment.
God has never forgotten the tiniest promise.
God has never broken a single vow.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:20
But I think the third, and the most striking thing about our commitment-making God is that —
God is faithful even though the people he has committed himself to are continually breaking promises.
Think about this —
We get in trouble.
We commit to change.
And then, when the pain lets up, when the trouble goes away, we turn around and forget our commitments and break our word to each other and to God.
But even then, God never slips one degree from total trustworthiness. God is incapable of bad faith.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:
If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
God sets the standard for commitment — “I will keep my commitment to you no matter what.”
God is a commitment-making, commitment-honoring, commitment-keeping God.
And that’s why people who follow God are commitment makers.
And not just that — people who follow God make what look from the outside like outrageous commitments… and they do it with fierce joy.
We’re going to look at one such person today.
Then over the next three weeks, we’re going to look at the incredible power of commitment in our financial lives, relational lives, and spiritual lives — 3 commitments that will change your life.
In a book in the Old Testament called 1 Kings, there’s a prophet named Elijah, and he’s coming to the end of his ministry, so he’s looking for a replacement.
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair.
Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.
Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” 1 Kings 19:19-20
This is a very, very dramatic moment.
Elijah is an old man. He’s standing in the field. There’s plowing going on.
He lets 11 pair of oxen go by. Then he walks up to Elisha. He takes off his cloak. His cloak is a symbol of his calling, of his office, of his life’s work.
He throws it around Elisha.
The meaning is real clear — “Elisha, God has a job for you. You’re going to have to leave all of this.”
This passage leaves out a lot of details I would want to know if I were thinking about taking on a job like this.
What’s the health plan like?
How many weeks of vacation do I get?
If Elisha is going to be a prophet and Elijah already is a prophet, would there be some kind of a profit sharing plan?
What we do know is Elisha has 12 pair of oxen at work. What this means in that economy is Elisha is a person of staggering wealth.
In other words, he has options. He has possibilities. He has a real bright future. He’s a golden boy. He can have any girl in the village he wants.
Leave all of that to attach himself to a penniless preacher and face a life of opposition and danger and sacrifice? Seriously?
What if a better option comes along?
There’s this very dramatic moment. Elisha has one request. He says, “Let me go kiss my mother and father goodbye, and then I will come to you.”
This is reasonable, and Elijah’s response seems a little edgy. “Go ahead. What have I done to you?”
You can hear the wheels turning in Elijah’s mind. “I bet if he runs home to Mommy and Daddy, they’ll remind him of the trust fund and the keys to the car and the vacation home. He’s going to bail. I’ll probably never see him again.”
Now, Elijah does something very important — he gives Elisha the space to make the commitment himself. No pressure, no manipulation. “You must decide.”
A good church will do that with people when it comes to God and commitment. “You must decide.”
And Elisha does. Elisha decides to say yes to God.
Elisha comes back, and he says to Elijah, “I’m all set. There’s just one more thing I have to do.”
I love this.
He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. 1 Kings 19:21
He burns the plow. That’s significant.
He comes back to Elijah. He’s all in… and he says, “Well, what should I do with these oxen?” He kills them.
The oxen don’t like that part of the story.
The idea here is he’s going to offer a sacrifice to God that represents, that expresses that he’s really offering his life as a sacrifice to God.
Then he decides to turn this sacrifice into a party, and he gives the meat to all of the people.
Do you have any idea how many people you can feed with two oxen? One side of beef is huge.
One of the best things you can do — if you’re really serious about keeping a commitment — is to go public with it. He’s going public big time.
If kissing his parents goodbye and killing his oxen and offering a sacrifice and going public isn’t enough for him, he does one more thing.
He burns the plow.
Do you get what that means?
“There’s no going back. I cannot return to my old life. I burned the plow.”
When Elijah leaves him and Elisha is all alone, “I can’t go back. I burned the plow.”
When a bunch of boys mock him, which they will, and he calls a bear out to chase them and maul them, he thinks, “I’ll never be a man of God. I’ll never get this right.”
He says to himself, “I can’t go back. I burned the plow.”
When the king wants to kill him
When the Arameans surround him
When a famine is starving him
When Israel rejects him so utterly that he weeps at his failure
The one thing he knows is, “I can’t go back. I burned the plow. That way of life is cut off from me. There is no retreat.”
That’s commitment… plow-burning commitment.
Some of you will know about this story.
In 1519, a conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz in Mexico to win glory in the New World.
He came from Spain with 500 soldiers and 100 sailors on 11 ships.
When they landed, they were filled with uncertainty and fear. This is the New World.
Some of them wanted to go back.
He gave an order to his men, “Burn the ships.”
In other words, “Going back isn’t an option. We will succeed, or we will die. We will flourish, or we will perish… but we will not run away. We are committed. Burn the ships.”
Now, this story gets told a lot. It’s a good motivational speaker story.
But because we’re a church and the truth is a big deal for us, I have to say a couple of things about this.
They didn’t actually burn the ships; they sank them. And they left one ship intact to bring treasure back to Spain… and maybe bring back a few leaders if it didn’t all work out.
It turns out that Cortés wasn’t all that nice to the Aztecs, to the people who were already living in the New World.
That’s important because we’re not called to glorify commitment. If commitment is attached to the wrong thing, it can do a lot of damage.
If a football player has an overpowering commitment to win the Super Bowl whatever it takes… but a non-commitment to obey God by honoring his wife
If a business person has an unquenchable commitment to success… but a quenchable commitment to his family, that’s actually idolatry. Ultimate commitment to a non-ultimate value is idolatry.
But when a human being makes an outrageous commitment to a noble calling from a worthy God…
When an ordinary human being says:
I don’t care how hard it gets.
I don’t care how high the cost.
I am not going back.
I am not turning around.
I have charbroiled the ox.
I have kissed off the trust fund.
I have given up the keys.
The ships are smoking in the harbor.
I have burned the plow.
That’s when a power gets released on this earth beyond human capacity.
So Blue Oaks, I want to ask you, “Where is God calling you to burn the plow?”
Maybe it’s in your marriage.
Maybe that commitment has been kind of shaky.
When Kathy and I got married, we had only one premarital session to cover money, sex, conflict, in-laws, parenting, goals, division of labor, expectations… I don’t recommend that. We needed a lot more.
At one point, the guy counseling us asked us, “What will you do if you wake up one morning, and your feelings of love for each other are gone?” and Kathy immediately said, “I will honor my commitment.”
That was the wrong answer to me back then.
The right answer to me back then was, “We are so special… and our love is so magical… that the feelings of love will never go away. They couldn’t go away. They might for ordinary people, but not for me. They will only grow more special every day. The idea that you would have to stay with me out of commitment is the wrong answer.”
And I let Kathy know this was the wrong answer by pouting. I have the spiritual gift of pouting. If I were a superhero, it would be my superpower.
It is better than it once was, but it has done damage to our marriage many times over the years… but Kathy has kept loving me.
Do you know how?
She honors her commitment.
Now, honoring your commitment in a marriage doesn’t mean, “I’m going to be a martyr. This is going to be so hard.”
It doesn’t mean saying, “What a noble human being I am to continue to endure a pouter like you.”
No, it’s a thousand little commitments that are powered by God.
I’ll fight honestly.
I’ll make up.
I won’t go surfing on the internet where I shouldn’t be.
I won’t go flirting.
I won’t go escaping in a bottle or with a screen.
I made a promise for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I’ll burn the plow.
If you’re married, have you burned the plow?
Or maybe God is calling you to burn the plow with your children.
In a wedding you say the commitment out loud. When a child arrives, you don’t have to make any commitments to get them. They just show up.
But there’s a commitment there. Children come with a little commitment attached, and it’s supposed to be fulfilled by parents.
In more than any other relationship, I think, the parent/child relationship comes with a little clause attached that says — “No matter what.”
I’ll be there for you… no matter what.
I’ll love you… no matter what.
I’ll equip you for life… no matter what.
I’ll feed you
I’ll read to you
I’ll teach you how to throw
I’ll teach you how to ride a bike
I’ll teach you about friends
and about work
and about love
and about men and women
and about money
I’ll teach you what’s right and what’s wrong
I’ll teach you about God
And when the time comes, I’ll let you go, no strings attached
“And I’ll do this whether you are genetically gifted or genetically challenged, whether other people in this world think of you as a shining star or a failure — no matter what.”
Maybe your child is one of the brightest and the best —
gets wonderful grades
goes to the finest schools
embarks on a successful career
makes you look like a genius
Maybe your child will struggle —
go through depression
reject your values
run away from your home
and defy your God
When you enter parenthood, you take on a “no matter what” commitment.
And you only get released when one of you dies.
That’s why the parent/child commitment is most like God’s commitment with us — it never ends “no matter what.”
I was reading a book about corporate mission that had an interesting statement. You hear this a lot. The author said, “The corporation has become in our day what the family used to be 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.”
I want to say, “No, it hasn’t.”
See, in a company, if you get a pink slip, go to your supervisor and say, “Hey, you can’t do this to me. I’m family,” and he’ll say, “No, you used to be family. Now, you’re fired.”
In a good family, you can’t get fired.
That’s one of the differences between a family and a company. You might want to write that down.
You see, what makes a family a family is not the birth of a child. What makes a family a family is a commitment.
“I’m your dad. I’m your mom. You might do anything. You might betray my values. You might deny my God. You might break my heart. I’ll still be your dad. I will never stop loving you.”
Maybe work or disappointment or anger or busyness has been causing you to break your commitment as a mom or a dad.
Maybe you’ve gotten a little lax on your commitment to help your children know God, to be part of a spiritual community every week.
You know, we have so many people who give their lives and energy, who have committed themselves, to create spiritual community for children and students through our Family Ministry at Blue Oaks.
Your children can be part of a little group who knows them and loves them and helps them know God loves them.
To make a commitment to put a stake in the ground, to say, “Every week, I’m going to be here and make sure my kids are here.”
Maybe that has been getting a little loose. It’s time to burn the plow.
Or maybe God is calling you to burn the plow in a friendship.
Now, I would say we all probably look for similar qualities in a friend. Most of us want a friend who is committed to us, who is loyal to us, a friend who we can trust, a friend who will open up to us, and is fun to be with.
Friendship can be one of the most powerful forces in our lives.
A lot of who I am today is because of the friends I chose and the access I allowed them to have into my life.
Some of the reading I did this week says that the average time it takes to go from an acquaintance to a deep friend is about three years.
You invest yourself and your time; you take risks; you do whatever you can to treat these relationships with the utmost of respect and cultivate them so that they will grow.
I want to talk for a minute about what I believe is a key element to a committed friendship.
It’s something we don’t talk about much, but it’s something that was modeled for us in the life of Christ — and that is, a committed friendship has an element of challenge to it.
I was talking with someone recently. She was talking about a mutual friend of ours. She said this man reminded her more of Christ than anyone she had ever met.
And I remember thinking that was kind of strange because he didn’t really remind me of Christ very much at all.
So I asked her, “What makes you say that?” And she said, “Well, he’s just so kind all the time.”
And I challenged here to go through the gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — the four books of the Bible that record the life of Christ.
And I said, “Just read through the gospels and mark how many times Jesus was nice verses how many times Jesus challenged people.”
Was Jesus nice and kind? Of course he was, many times. He looked deeply into the hearts of people, he forgave their sins, he loved them with compassion so strong that many times he was moved to tears.
But you know what, if you were to compare the times when he was kind verses the times when he challenged people, you would have many more marks on the challenge side.
Jesus had this ability to penetrate to the heart of where people were falling short, and he called them to live above that.
And you and I need that so desperately in our lives.
The writer of Proverbs said:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted. Proverbs 27:6
Wounds from a friend. When someone really loves you, and you’re in a close relationship with them, they can say hard things to you.
And as hard as they are to hear, eventually, when the sting is over, if you really desire to follow God, a part of you nods and says, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s how I want to live.”
You know, some of us really need to start challenging our friends.
Some of us know exactly where our friends are struggling… and like Jesus Christ would, we need to challenge them to grow. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”
And to do this, some of us need to free ourselves from the need to be liked all the time.
Sometimes we‘re so afraid that we’re going to lose the friendship that instead of telling the truth, we just agree with each other. We commiserate. We tell each other that our feelings and actions are okay, even when they’re destructive.
There is absolutely no hope of change in our lives without some kind of challenge being spoken into our lives on a regular basis.
How are you doing at commitment in your friendships? How are you doing at being a challenging friend?
Do you need to burn the plow in a friendship?
Or maybe God is calling you to burn the plow when it comes to a commitment to community.
The truth about some of you here is you’re isolated — no one really knows you.
And a lot of people are okay with that.
I’ve heard a lot of people say something along these lines: “I can believe in Jesus without going to church. Jesus never commanded anyone to go to church.”
What Jesus called people to do was enter into life in community, to enter into real relationships, to go beyond superficial acquaintanceship — where there is someone who knows you, who knows all about you, who can challenge you and stretch you and comfort you and call you into the kind of greatness for which God designed you.
And you have to decide.
For some of you, the most significant life-changing decision you can make today is to leave relational superficiality and say, “I’m going to seek to enter real community.”
That’s one of the reasons we are so committed to having small groups at this church.
But not all of us are in small groups, because there are barriers to a commitment to community.
One of them has to do with what it is you value. It has to do with the priority that you give to community, because the truth about our society is we live in a society where there is a high value on producing things and achieving things and accomplishing things, and very often it leads people not to invest themselves in a church community.
Because if you want to grow in a church community, it will require the expenditure of a significant amount of your time and energy. And there’s just no shortcut to that.
And maybe it will feel like a waste of time.
But I don’t know how else to say it — your commitment to a church community is a very serious deal to God.
Maybe God is calling you to burn the plow when it comes to being connected in community through a small group.
Maybe God is calling you to burn the plow in your business commitments… or financial commitments.
That’s interestingly where the whole concept of commitment emerged originally.
I know a guy who has valued, as much as anything in his life, his commitments in business.
He had business dealings, years ago now, with men that he trusted… but these men were not trustworthy.
When the truth came out, he was nearly destroyed financially. It was the most devastating vocational experience of his life.
And in some ways, the consequences of that have been with him for a couple decades. It ripped his heart out. And for a time it left him kind of wondering, “Can anyone really be trusted?”
That goes on every day.
Some of you are here today, and there’s someone who made a commitment to you.
Someone said you could count on them.
Someone shook your hand… or signed a piece of paper… or looked you in the eye…
And then they broke faith and they violated your trust.
Some of you had your hearts broken because someone in the business world broke faith with you.
And I want to ask you today, will you have the character to say, “Even though I’ve been hurt and betrayed in my financial or vocational life, I will maintain an outstanding standard of commitment-keeping… just like God does even though he was betrayed.
“I will place integrity above all else — even profits —
in my deal-making
“I will never make a casual commitment.
“I will honor all my commitments.
“I will never say I’m on top of it, if I’m not.
“I will not steal credit for an idea that doesn’t belong to me.
“Even if other people break faith, my word will be my bond.”
Maybe, like Elisha, God is calling you to make your life an act of service to him — to make your time, and talents and abilities and resources available to be used by God.
It’s so strange how so many people who live for so much freedom get to the end of their lives, and they can’t remember what they did with all of that money they were free to make and spend.
They can’t remember how they used all of that time they were so busy protecting.
They can’t remember what even happened to all of those relationships they were so free to exit.
In the end, where they didn’t have to commit to anything, they ended up with a life committed to nothing.
It is not in our freedom but in our commitments that we find ourselves.
I’m the one who committed myself to Kathy, and to my daughter Lily and to my daughter Amryn and to my son Ezra, and to my work, to my ministry, and to my good friends, and to my God, to my Lord Jesus.
And I was thinking — imagine if all of us around here were to be first-class commitment-keepers.
Imagine marriages where every spouse committed, every day, to offering faithful love.
Imagine what kind of children we’d raise if every parent was a day-in, day-out, commitment-keeping mom or a commitment-keeping dad.
Imagine how deep the friendships around here would go if they were all marked by loyalty, challenge, truth and caring.
Imagine how God would be honored throughout the business community if it became common knowledge that when you deal with a Christ-follower, all you need is their word.
Imagine what this church would become if we all made the ultimate commitment a human being can make, the one that is worth your life and death — the commitment to love and follow this Jesus who is infinitely committed to you.
If you’re visiting today or watching online, I want to say something to you if you’re not a follower of Jesus, if you’re just thinking about faith… and I hope you will consider this.
I hope you will think about the role of commitment and what a commitment to Jesus could mean to your life.
If you’re part of our church, if you’re a follower of Jesus, I have to tell you — I hope, I pray, I ache that we will be the kind of church that is just thrilled to be called to total and outrageous commitment to Jesus.
That doesn’t just come to hear, “God loves you just the way you are. It’s okay to go out and lead the same foolish life next week.”
Then you come back next week, and you hear again, “God loves you no matter what.”
He does love you no matter what, but I hope this would be the kind of place where we love to be called to outrageous commitment to Jesus… not because we’re these noble committed types or are better than other people… just for one reason, because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life… I have come to offer life in all it’s fullness.”
Jesus himself is so humble that if a better way than his were to come along, Jesus is the first person who would say, “Take it,” but nothing better has come along for 2,000 years. And I’ll tell you a little secret — nothing better will be coming tomorrow.
So burn the plow, people.
Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.