Magazine article The Christian Century

Promise Keeper. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Promise Keeper. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

CROSS MY HEART, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." As a child, these were the only authentic words of promise. Crossing the heart symbolized sincerity. Hoping to die and being willing to stick a needle in one's eye indicated that one was willing to suffer excruciating physical pain if one's promise lacked integrity.

Now that we're adults, sincerity and integrity are still necessary conditions of a promise. We need not look beyond our own experience to see that words do not carry much weight if we have no confidence in the one who is speaking. The integrity of the one making the promise is the currency that makes the promise valuable. Read the newspaper headlines concerning our nation's political and corporate leadership. You'll find carefully prepared statements and lots of promises. But those words are meaningless if we cannot trust the one who says them. Recently, hard-working people hoping to make good investments for retirement trusted the words of Wall Street analysts. But these analysts were endorsing corporations even though they knew that the corporations would soon crumble into bankruptcy. Who can you trust?

We can trust God. Our confidence rests in knowing that the promises God makes to us are connected to God's presence with us. In fact, the most basic promise God gives us is the promise of the divine presence in our lives. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked that what sustained him in the difficult days of the civil rights movement was the promise of God's presence. One year after being called to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, King was chosen to be the spokesperson for the Montgomery Improvement Association. Shortly after assuming his role as community leader and activist, King started receiving phone calls threatening his life and the lives of his wife and children. One night a caller ordered him to leave town in three days or risk having his home firebombed. Unable to sleep, King went into the kitchen hoping to find some relief in a warm cup of coffee. He sat at his kitchen table wrestling with the meaning of his present crisis and came face-to-face with the fact that he could lose his newborn daughter or wife at any moment.

Looking deep within himself, King bowed his head and prayed, "Lord I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think I'm right. I think the cause we represent is right. But I'm weak now. I'm faltering and I'm losing my courage." At that moment King heard a voice saying, "Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth and `Lo, I will be with you even till the end of the world. …

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