Total Commitment

by Bill Rudge

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Photo by Bill Rudge

Everybody wants it, but few are willing to give it: Coaches want it from their players; drill sergeants demand it from new recruits; teachers and professors love it in students; employers require it from their employees; husbands and wives desire it from their spouses. What is this characteristic most everyone wants from others? Total Commitment!

While speaking at a pastors’ conference I asked, “Do you believe in God? Everyone said a hearty Amen! So I asked again, “Do you really believe in God and Jesus Christ?” Same response as they all acknowledged they did. Then I asked, “Do you really believe the Bible is God’s Word?” They all enthusiastically affirmed they did. So I said, “If you really believe in God, Jesus Christ and the Bible, then it should radically affect your life: how you live, what you watch, what you say and what you do.” They got the message.

However, as I travel and minister throughout the U.S. and around the world, I find that many who profess faith in Jesus Christ – even many leaders and pastors – are not totally committed to Him as Lord of their lives.

Heart Commitment

When I use the words total commitment, I am not talking about what you say with your mouth, or what you appear to be on the surface. I am talking about a heart commitment. I have learned from experience that outward appearances and words can be deceptive. Man looks at the externals, but God looks at the heart. Are your heart, your motives, your will, your goals, and your desires fully committed to Jesus Christ?

Many Christians believe the Bible and live for the Lord, so long as it poses no difficulty and agrees with their preconceived beliefs and ideas. When Scripture contradicts what they want to hear or do, they discard, deny, compromise, or attempt to twist it to say what they want it to say. Many have a “dip and skip” mentality: They dip into all the promises, blessings, and miracles, but skip all the responsibilities, commitment, and obedience.

For every gift and privilege God gives, responsibility and commitment are required:

If you want the mountaintop, you must walk through the valley. If you want the benefit and blessing, you must pay the price of commitment. If you want the victory, you must fight the battle. If you want the gifts of the Spirit, you must develop the fruit of the Spirit. If you want spiritual power, you must develop spiritual muscle.

God Wants First Place

Throughout the Old Testament, God emphasized the principle that He wants first place in our lives: When He said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,” He was saying, “I must be first regarding your finances.” When God said, “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work,” He was saying, “I must be first concerning your time.” When God said, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God,” He was saying, “I must be first in regard to your business and livelihood.” When God asked for the firstborn of all cattle, He was saying, “I must be first regarding your belongings.” When God said, “You must give [consecrate] to Me the first-born of your sons,” He was saying, “I must be first concerning your family.”

God does not need your money, cattle, produce or your possessions; He wants you! Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

When Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world, he said, “All this I will give You, if You will bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Then Jesus said to him, “Away from Me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10). Jesus clearly revealed that God not only wants first place, but He must be the only Lord and God in our lives.

Why does the Lord not allow anyone or anything else to be god in our lives? Because not only has He created us and deserves that unique position, but He knows that anyone or anything else controlling our lives becomes our god – and eventually that god destroys us. In contrast David said, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144:15).

Take Up Your Cross

If you think total commitment is only for those in Christian leadership, look closely at Scripture. Luke 14:25-27 says:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “… Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.”

Jesus is not saying we are to carry a literal cross around, but He is making it perfectly clear to the crowds that to be His disciple requires total commitment.

The disciples knew what Christ meant when He said:

If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34,35).

Being well aware of Roman crucifixions, and of their context in the culture, they knew that Jesus was speaking of dying to self and of total commitment to Him.

Evaluating the Four C’s

There are acceptable and unacceptable types of commitment mentioned in the Bible. Which of the following four categories is most like your commitment?

Committed to Rebellion

Are you like King Ahab who, in outright rebellion against the Lord, did evil in His sight with no desire for repentance?

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him (1 Kings 16:29, 30).

Although Ahab was king of the northern tribes of Israel, he openly rebelled against God. Similarly, there are many who name the name of Jesus Christ outwardly, but according to God’s Word, their hearts are in outright rebellion in the way they live, the things they do and in their associations.

Committed – Sort Of

Do you serve the Lord halfheartedly like Amaziah, king of Judah?

Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Jehoaddin; she was from Jerusalem. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly (2 Chronicles 25:1, 2).

Wholeheartedness matters to God.

Committed – Sporadically

Like Uzziah, king of Judah, when the Lord blessed him and he became powerful, he also became proud and turned away from the Lord.

Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. … He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God… (2 Chronicles 26:3-5, 16).

Do you want to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, but have not maintained that commitment your whole life?

So far we have three types of commitment: those who live in outright rebellion and do evil before the Lord; those who only halfheartedly serve the Lord; and those who wholeheartedly serve the Lord, but only for a short duration. Will you run the race for two, or even twenty years, then get weary and fall away?

Wholeheartedly Committed

Or are you like Abraham, Moses, Caleb, Ruth, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, and many others who made their commitment to the Lord, and served Him wholeheartedly all the days of their lives? It is this kind of commitment that God desires from those who name the name of Jesus.

Consider the words David spoke to his son, Solomon:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever (1 Chronicles 28:9).

Do not serve the Lord halfheartedly all your life – or even wholeheartedly half your life. Instead, serve the Lord wholeheartedly all of your life!

Beautiful Waterfalls

I believe the old adage, “You are only as good as your word,” and I do everything possible to keep mine. If you make a commitment to Christ today and then next week you give up, then it really was not much of a commitment. A true commitment isn’t for just one day or one week, but the rest of your life. It isn’t just one or two hours on Sundays, but twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We should seek to live under His Lordship and glorify Him, not only when in church, reading our Bibles, praying or witnessing, but also when we are at home, at work, at school, engaged in sports or social activities, working out at the gym – anytime and anywhere.

When I was on a speaking tour in Tobago, in the West Indies, I learned there were two waterfalls on the island. One was an easy two or three minute walk. Although very nice, the other one was far more beautiful, but would require a 45-minute hike through streams, over stones and rocks, across slippery ledges, and through thick brush.

Having a few hours of free time, my ministry team decided to go with me on the longer excursion. The waterfall was awesome, forming three tiers of pools. When we swam in the cool and refreshing waters, it was like being in paradise.

Most people visiting Tobago avoid the more difficult way and are satisfied to see just the first falls. As one who is willing to pay the price for that which is truly worthwhile, I led the team into a breathtaking area, unsurpassed in beauty and serenity, rather than to settle for second best.

Too many people settle for convenient Christianity. But real blessing, power, and victory manifest in the lives of those totally committed to the Lord, with all their hearts. Believe me, it is well worth it!

Excerpted from Reaching Your Maximum Potential in Christ which is being expanded for its third edition in book and E-book form. In a future newsletter we will discuss “Bridge Burning” as we continue this series.

Living with Hope and Leaving a Lasting Legacy

Making a New Life Resolution for 2019, part 6

In the previous blog, I shared with you my seventh and eighth New Life Resolutions:  7) Reflect in an authentic way to others the transforming power and reality of Jesus Christ in my life; 8) While I should grieve over the wickedness in the world, I will still approach non-believers with the same love and grace that Jesus has shown me. Let us now examine the final two New Life Resolutions.

Resolution 9:  When I face difficulties and challenges, I will think of those who face daily persecution and have given their lives (martyrs) for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Since we live in a fallen world, all of us will experience pain and suffering. While we cannot avoid this, we can choose how we respond. Will we respond like the children of Israel who grumbled and complained, or will we respond with hope and joy? As Peter encouraged those Christians who were facing persecution,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4)

A book that I recommend every Christian read is “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” It details the many men and women throughout history who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. Their commitment and love for Jesus in the midst of difficult challenges is truly inspiring. One such example is a girl named Mary who, along with her family, was given the choice to renounce her faith in Jesus or die. In their refusal to deny the very One who had given His life for them, they were all shot. Mary would be the only one who survived but would be paralyzed by the bullet that had severed her spinal cord. In response to this tragedy, she makes the following profound statement, “Everyone has a vocation. I can never marry or do any physical work. So I will offer my life to the Muslims, like the one who cut my father’s throat, stabbed my mother while cursing her and tried to kill me. My life will be a prayer for them.”

The lives of those who have faced persecution and even death have provided me with a resolve to approach the challenges in my life, which are much less, with the same faithfulness and trust. I have come to recognize that these challenges be opportunities for spiritual growth, to help encourage others in difficult times, and to show others that the God of the Bible is faithful. This life is but a moment in comparison to eternity and one day the pain and brokenness we experience will forever be wiped away:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying,

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them   He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (Revelation 21:3, 4).

Resolution 10:  At my death my family and friends will rejoice over the life I have lived, and that I will have the ability to say with my final breath, “It is finished”; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I recently had to visit a friend who is facing terminal cancer. With only months to live, he shared with me how many regrets he has as he approaches death. Full of remorse for wasted time and making poor choices that have negatively impacted both his children and grandchildren, he is now trying his best to redeem what time he still has left.

Reflecting upon what my friend said made me want to have the resolve to not approach my death full of regrets. I want to live my life like Jesus who, not distracted by the insignificant things of this world, lived his life with resolve to fulfill the will of His Father. Thus, with no hesitation in His voice, He was able to say with His final breath on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I also want to live my life like the Apostle Paul who, despite the obstacles in his life, took the Gospel to every corner of the Roman Empire. As a result, in the final letter he wrote to his dear friend Timothy he was able to say,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Conclusion

My prayer for all of you is that you will choose to live your lives with resolve. A resolve where you seek His glory, desire His presence, and live for eternity. Regardless of where you are in your journey with Jesus, remember these words:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

A Desire for God and His Word

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Making a New Life Resolution for 2019, part 4

In the previous blog, I shared with you my third and fourth New Life Resolutions:  3) Live with an eternal perspective where I invest in those things that will outlive me.; 4) To not neglect my role as a husband to love my wife and my role as a father to intentionally invest in the spiritual development of my children.  Let us now examine New Life Resolutions five and six.

Resolution 5:  Conform my life to the standards of God’s Word regardless of what it may cost me in this life.

Growing up, soccer was a major part of my life. In fact, as I was moving into my senior year, I had scholarship offers by division 1 schools. However, a few weeks before my final high school season started, I tore a ligament in my knee at a soccer tournament. This event led me down a path of re-evaluating every aspect of my life. You can read the full story by going to our website and downloading the free e-book “Faith Through the Fire” (http://billrudge.org/store/e-books). One of the key lessons that I learned through this injury was that if I was going to be a Christian, I needed to serve God on His terms and not my own. In other words, I needed to completely yield my life over to Him (Matthew 16:24-26).

Being yielded to God means we must look to God, not ourselves or to the culture around us, as the final standard for our lives. Yet, just as it was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4, 5), this battle between personal autonomy and self-surrender to Jesus Christ continues to wage war within all of our souls. This is why I have made a conscious effort every day to look to God’s Word in setting the standards in how I live my life. As I do this, I fully recognize that I will face difficulties and challenges (2 Timothy 3:12); hence, my life will not reflect the patterns of this world (1 John 2:15-17). Being a person of resolve who is living His life to glorify His Lord and Savior, I must walk in obedience to His commands, even if I find myself walking alone. In the words of the Apostle Paul,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1, 2).

Resolution 6:  Start and end each day in communion with God so I can know Him more and what He requires of me.

The key to living my life in accordance to God’s standards means I must know Him, a knowledge that is not just intellectual but is personal and intimate. As in any relationship, the only way that this can occur is by spending time with God. In fact, it is in those moments of being on my knees in prayer and reading the Bible where I feel closest to God.

Many people often get preoccupied with doing things for God and neglect the importance of just spending time with Him. While it is vital to be actively serving the Lord through external action (doing), we cannot lose sight of the fact that we should also serve God with our heart (being). In other words, our level of faith should be more than just carrying out duties (serving others, giving tithes, etc.), it should ultimately evolve out of a love and passion for Jesus Christ. This is why I have made it a resolve to start and end every day in communion with God. In both good times and bad times, I want to have the daily DESIRE to spend time with God and know His Word. Let us all have a heart like David:

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1, 2).

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”
(Psalm 63:1).

In the next blog we will examine Resolutions 7 and 8. Until then, may we all continue to live a life of resolve.

The ‘Secret’ to God’s Blessing

by Bill Rudge

The many blessings and miracles God has bestowed in my life, family and ministry have not come about because of “proper confession” or using the “right” technique, formula or ritual, but because of faith in Him and obedience to His Word. I have not sought these things, but I have sought Him: to know and obey His will and to make Him Lord over every aspect of my life. As a result, He has honored and blessed me in many ways. My motivation is not merely to receive His blessing; I don’t serve Him for prosperity. For, if He removes His hand of blessing (as He has occasionally done), I will still serve and honor Him.

The Lord has blessed me financially, but we choose to give most of it away and live a moderate lifestyle. I could be easily justified in accepting a salary of two or even three times more than I do, but we have chosen instead, to use that money to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Some people spend their time and energy trying to get God to give them wealth and prosperity. However, Scripture repeatedly indicates that spiritual riches are far more important than material wealth; honoring Him proves to be the wisest path.

Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). The apostle Paul admonishes: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). First Timothy 6:18 instructs: “Be rich in good deeds and be generous and willing to share” which will lay up treasure for you in the coming age.

No Good Thing Does He Withhold…

On a hot August day, following a hard workout on the Obstacle Course, my then 14 year old grandson and I were talking about the Lord and Scripture while recuperating in hammocks. He mentioned he’d recently read Psalm 84. In return I commented on verses 11 and 12:

No good thing does He [the LORD] withhold from those who walk uprightly. How blessed is the man who trusts in You!

“Look around,” I said, “and see how God has fulfilled His Word: We started with literally nothing and God has blessed us with a wonderful family and eleven awesome grandchildren. He has provided a beautiful property surrounded with trees like an oasis, a ministry center, a house, a vehicle and everything else that is good for us. I may not have a boat, a plane or much money, and have faced many challenges, but I don’t need a boat, a plane or lots of money, and the challenges have made me strong. God has given me everything I need and blessed us beyond measure. He has been faithful and proven His Word to be true.”

The heroes of the faith willingly gave up the pleasures and treasures of this world to focus on future blessings and eternal riches. So too, I have earnestly sought to put the Lord first in everything, and He has honored and blessed me! I have discovered the reality of the following biblical promises:

Psalm 37:4  “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 84:11  “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

Matthew 6:33  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

The Lord has taught me that I cannot manipulate Him to give me what I want. But if I delight myself in Him, seek His will, and walk in obedience to it, He will grant the desires of my heart (because they will be His desires as well) and abundantly bless beyond what I could ever ask or think—beyond my greatest expectations.