In March 1990, the head coach of the Colorado University football team, Bill McCartney, was driving from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado, with his friend, Dr. Dave B. Wardell. As they talked they birthed an idea of getting men together to fill a stadium to honour Jesus Christ, and to challenge them to lives of integrity. They enlisted 72 men to fast and pray for the idea and in 1993 the goal was realized by God’s grace – 50,000 men filled Colorado University’s Folsom Field for the first Promise Keeper’s event. In 1994, nearly 280,000 men gathered in seven different cities. The next year went to 13 cities and over 500,000 men. Promise Keepers is just one example of people getting together, serious about their faith, and wondering what they can do in the kingdom. As God leads, movements and ministries like PK and Women’s Journey of Faith continue to crop up around the world.
They wanted to make a difference for Christ. They wanted to unite men through vital relationships to become godly influences in their world. Today, as in 1990, we live in a world of negotiable values, confused identities, distorted priorities, and multiple distractions. The question becomes, “How can we be part of what God is doing?” and “What is God calling me to do, to be?” I have talked often of a Biblical pattern of change. I believe it starts with a firm commitment, a response to a choice before us, namely, “What am I going to do with Jesus Christ today?” The choice is between accepting Jesus as our Lord, our Leader, letting Him have the reins of our life, or of doing things our way, in our wisdom, on our strength. The latter will always end in spiritual failure, the former the only path to righteousness and fulfilment as His creation. What follows that choice is the putting off of the negative, the sin of the world’s character, and taking on the positive, the righteousness of God’s character.
Jesus presented this challenge in several ways, but perhaps the most arresting is when He said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” The foreshadowing of Jesus’ self sacrifice for us is mind-blowing – He suggests that there is a price to pay for discipleship. We don’t really wrestle with that price here in Canada, a land of plenty. We gorge ourselves on entertainment, on fulfilling our desires without really thinking about it. We pursue the good life – yes, we keep things from going too far, but so often that challenge of Christ gets lost in the busyness, in the messiness of living.
Down through the ages individuals and groups have tried to express this exact thing, to help the people around them get a handle of this whole denying self, of loving God and loving neighbour. The Rule of St Benedict is a book of precepts written by Benedict of Nursia in 516 AD. It was for monks living in a community under the authority of an abbot, and can be summed up with the motto, “Peace”, and the traditional “Prayer and Work”. It was a moderate path between individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism, and has been popular in places ever since.
But for you and I today, who aren’t living in a monastic community but in the midst of a church community in a secular society, what does the challenge of Christ look like for us today? I want to unpack this central challenge over the next few weeks in different ways. As you think about this, is there something specific that has helped you understand the call of Christ?
I am going to use the foundation of the Promise Keeper’s movement to describe the call of Christ today. As the name implies, they identified Seven Promises that form the rallying point of their ministry. A number of years ago they have left the Promises in the garage, because they became concerned that men were using it as a checklist, and it caused some issues as a performance-based “holier-than-thou” attitude. In spite of those sentiments, I believe the Promises are valid for us today as one way to approach God’s challenge to us. They believed that Christian growth began by making (and keeping) some promises. So they identified Seven Promises. I have altered them slightly for us to consider today:
- I promise to honour Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to His word, through the power of the Holy Spirit. At the very top, I mentioned a couple weeks ago that you won’t reach anything if you don’t really want to reach it. You won’t accomplish anything of value if you aren’t intentional about it. The underlying premise is that you want to follow Christ. If you don’t, then there is nothing to do but wait until you make that choice. But once you have made it, then listen up. This first promise identifies 3 spiritual disciplines that we must have in our life if we want to grow in Christ. If you own a house, you have to do the basics – fix a leaky roof, replace a toilet or water heater when they break, vacuum once in a while, pick up garbage, etc. If you don’t, your house will eventually fall down around you. Same with your spiritual life – the basics include these three disciplines, with the understanding they are not just individual habits, but communal in nature.
- I promise to pursue vital relationship with a few friends, understanding that they will help me keep my promises, and me theirs. We cannot live in isolation and be part of the kingdom. That’s like saying my hockey team only needs me on the ice to win – it just ain’t gonna happen. You need friends on the journey. If you are married, your number one partner is your spouse. If you aren’t, you need one or two close friends who share the same priority as you do regarding faith.
- I promise to practice spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity. Integrity is the hallmark of a follower of Christ, because Jesus is remaking us into His image by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your witness suffers, your work in the kingdom of God is hindered if you don’t keep a tight rein on your life. You must be true to the core – are you living what you believe. Yes, we fall short – but when you do, go back to God, confess your sin, and He will cleanse you. Your ministry may change because of our weakness, but that is in God’s hands, how He wants to use us.
- I promise to build a strong marriage and family through love, protection, and Biblical values. Marriage is not a prerequisite, but we all have family. Sometimes our family isn’t blood relations, but we are all called to love our neighbour as family, as our self.
- I promise to support the ministry of the church by honouring and praying for the pastors and actively giving time and resources. This is our spiritual family. You get out of it what you put into it, and it is not just a community, but the body of Christ – Jesus is the head. Satan wants us to fail as a community, us to fail as pastors. We need your prayers, we all need to support one another – we are on the same team.
- I promise to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of Biblical unity. There is one church. It may look like thousands, but truth be told, we are one church. You have to unpack that in your life with God’s leading. We are on the same team.
- I promise to influence my world, being obedient to the Great Commissions and the Great Commandment. As you are going into the world, make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Love God with everything you have, and your neighbour a family. These are the two great purposes we have as the church, as individuals within the church. So how do you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ? Make and keep Seven Promises. This is what you agree to when you accept God’s salvation by grace through faith.