Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The Value of a Promise

My wife, Debbie, and I have collected many memories on our bicycle travels throughout America. Most are positive. However, none of them affected me more than cycling through an Indian Reservation in Montana on our honeymoon tour. It drove home the emptiness of broken promises.


A week before our arrival on “the Rez” we’d been warned to stay clear of it: “crazy kids, alcoholism, not a good place.” Yet as we cycled toward it, the beauty and vastness of the high plains wowed us. How could anything be that bad in a place surrounded by such magnificence?

The morning we headed to the epicenter, a dignified Native American woman also warned us: “You shouldn’t go there.” Citing “young gangs,” she advised us how to avoid trouble.

When we cycled into that town, my heart broke. Signs of poverty, substance abuse, and domestic strife spilled onto the glorious plains. Ramshackle vehicles, an iconic junkyard, a boarded-up church, and graffiti everywhere spelled squalor. Inside a convenience store, some residents loaded up on beer while others gambled away their money. The oppression had sent hope elsewhere. I’ll never forget the contagious feelings of despair.

Broken Promises

Four years later, with thoughts of the Montana reservation festering, we cycled the fringes of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where a remnant of the once-vaunted Sioux Nation resides.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Indians. The U.S. government had violated the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 when it seized land from them. However, the Sioux rejected the settlement proceeds because they wanted certain rights of ownership to the stolen lands, which they deemed sacred. The $102 million awarded in 1980 remains in trust, now worth well over $1 billion as the dispute lingers.

Meanwhile, residents of Pine Ridge live in one of the most impoverished regions in America. Life expectancy for men there is 48 years. Drug and alcohol abuse, gangs, and violence run rampant in people from whose homeland the federal government had forcibly removed them. Furthermore, America’s leaders expected them to assimilate into a lifestyle they never would’ve chosen. Motivated by greed, the not-so-native Americans slaughtered into virtual extinction the Sioux’s primary food source, the buffalo. Despite belonging to the guilty people group, I find the injustice appalling.

No Comfort

Today, the Sioux must still be asking themselves “What comfort is there in promises that don’t come true” (Zechariah 10:2 TLB)? In the biblical text, the Israelites relied on promises from notoriously unreliable sources: idols and the occult. However, the principle of breached trust applies across many spheres. What comfort does an ex-spouse find in her unfaithful, ex-partner’s promise? When was the last time you hired a business that promised one thing yet delivered another? For an employee expecting a certain job progression only to have it changed later, how is that promise working for him now?

Is Anyone Trustworthy?

How does one prevent such calamities? The answer lies in what or in whom we trust. People look in a variety of places for fulfillment and contentment: money, relationships, status, hedonism, even mind-altering substances. However, will those be of any value at life’s end?

Does Jesus have the power to grant eternal life to those who accept Him? Or is His blood merely another fool’s gold? What comfort is there if Jesus is not worthy of opening the scroll that contains the names in the Book of Life (Revelation 5:5)? What if He can’t be trusted to preserve one’s name on it (Revelation 20:15)? What if He doesn’t hold the keys to the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1)?

Will you stake your claim on His promises? He’s not hidden them from you. What better time to see if His word is reliable than as a new year begins? Examine the Gospel of John. Then decide.

Copyright © 2019 Tim Bishop, used with permission.

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