Knowing the Depth of God’s Love

by Bill Rudge

There was no other way for God to show the depth of His amazing love throughout eternity other than through the cross of Jesus Christ. Sure, He could just tell us how much He loves us or lavish every imaginable blessing on us. But that would not fully display the depth of His love: only His crucifixion ordeal manifests His abundant grace:

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Jesus’ suffering and death serves as an everlasting reminder of God’s displeasure and intolerance for sin and rebellion. How can fallen humanity, who brought sin and death into God’s perfect creation, pay the price to satisfy God’s Holiness, Righteousness and Justice? Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) we are without hope. Yet, the sinless Son of God shed His precious blood to appease God’s wrath due us and make the way for restored relationship with our Creator. And Jesus’ resurrection provides us confident assurance:

We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

You can only become a “new creation” through Jesus Christ. How could heaven be heaven, filled with “old creations” in a fallen state polluting heaven with the same sins which polluted earth: gossip, vulgarity, jealousy, envy, revenge, pride, arrogance, lies, thefts, sexual immorality and perversion? Those who refuse to accept God’s great mercy, forfeit all He has prepared for those who love Him! They have no other option but to be where God’s light and loving presence is not.

God’s personal invitation to spend eternity with Him was delivered by His own Son. A familiar, yet profound, Scripture gives us a glimpse of His amazing love for His creation:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The White Stone

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

The apostle Paul sets an example for believers in Jesus Christ to stand firm with conviction in regard to what the Bible has to say on sexuality. Yet, countless Christians are clueless concerning what it means to live a holy and righteous life. Many youth and young adults make their decisions about what is right and wrong based upon the relativity of circumstance rather than the absolute authority of God’s Word.

The message of the Gospel is compromised and weakened because of the sexual immorality among professing Christians. For example, a Muslim soccer coach confessed to me that he closed his ears to the Gospel message because of the rampant immorality that plagues the lives of many supposed Christians he has met.

If the church is unwilling to repent and continues to tolerate immoral behavior, its ability to be the “light of the world” will fade into extinction. Our Lord Jesus warned the church at Pergamum not to tolerate teachings that endorse sexually immoral behavior (Revelation 2:14-16).

Like the church at Pergamum in the first century, the church today needs to repent of its immorality. If we do, then just as Pergamum was promised a white stone for overcoming, we too will be given a white stone (Revelation 2:17). What is this white stone? An athlete at that time, after winning a competition, was awarded a white stone – an admission pass to the winner’s celebration. So too, believers who overcome will receive a white stone; their admission pass to Christ’s eternal Kingdom.

Alarming Trends in Movies

by Bill Rudge

Reviews of contemporary movies reveal many that are laced with vulgar, obscene and sexually explicit language, sensationalized occultism, sorcery, demonic entities and satanic powers. They display a plethora of suggestive and seductive sexual behavior and pornographic images, mock, pervert and profane sacred things, and seek to attract viewers with incessant violence – like a virtual-reality of the Scriptural description of the end times generation who refuse to repent. No wonder God calls to His people in Revelation 18:4:

Come out of her, My people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues.

The day rapidly approaches when God’s tolerance of the wickedness corrupting this earth finally comes to an end. God will intervene in the world scene to judge sin and rebellion by bringing people to their knees, either in repentance or in judgment. Scripture will be fulfilled:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10, 11).

The Temple of Artemis

A Lesson for Us Today from the Church at Ephesus
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Rev. 2:7

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

214 Ephesus was an important seaport city of the Roman province of Asia. It was the home of the famous temple of Artemis. As one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis attracted pilgrims from all over the Roman empire. The temple played a central role in the life of Ephesus, not only as a place of worship, but also serving as a bank. Those who lived in Ephesus were extremely loyal to Artemis as recorded in Paul’s encounter with Demetrius in Acts 19.

The apostle Paul commissioned Timothy to oversee the church at Ephesus. One particular problem that Timothy faced in addition to the influence of Artemis, was the infiltration of false teachings into the church. Paul admonished Timothy to remain steadfast to what he had been taught:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Paul knew it was the Word of God which would give Timothy and the church at Ephesus the spiritual discernment and strength it needed to remain true to the faith.

Just like Timothy, we find ourselves being bombarded today by a panoply of spiritual teachings; we are surrounded by a smorgasbord of beliefs. In the midst of this plurality of teachings, how do we spiritually discern what is and what is not of the Truth? People I encounter often use the “Jesus rule,” trying to answer this question. As long as what is being taught mentions Jesus enough times, then surely it must be right! Others appeal to their subjective experience and conclude that if it makes them feel better or closer to God, then it must be right.

However, proclaiming the name of Jesus and subjective experience are, in themselves, insufficient to avoid the deception of false teaching. An objective standard by which to spiritually discern the array of teachings and practices around us is required. In the case of the Christian, God has given us this objective standard — the Word of God. Just as Paul urged Timothy and the church at Ephesus to be equipped with the truth of Scripture, so must believers today.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to Turkey and visit the ancient city of Ephesus. I was amazed at how this leading city of the past was merely a pile of rubble. All that was left of the temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was a single standing column. As I looked upon the stone and marble, I realized that the church at Ephesus, which once stood for the Truth in this city of religious pluralism, was now among the ruins of the past.

Many Christians today are caught up in the various spiritual teachings of our time. With little or no discernment, they run from one idea to another and from one mystical experience to the next. This lack of spiritual discernment by the church today will come to a sad end — just as in Ephesus. Unless we are grounded in God’s Word, we will not have the spiritual maturity needed to escape the spiritually counterfeit dangers of our time.

Lest we suffer the same tragic fate as the church at Ephesus, we must maintain a love and passion for Jesus Christ by never leaving our first love (Revelation 2:4). My prayer is that all believers discern and reject the infiltration of false teaching. We must study, search and reflect upon Scripture, then apply it to our daily lives. It is reassuring to know that biblical Christians are overcomers who will be granted the right to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

Looking for Light in the Darkness Following a Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

When I was in college, my soccer coach took our team into a cave. Despite being cold and wet, we had an easy time navigating it, guided by our flashlights. However, after being in there for a while, my coach told us to turn our flashlights off and find our own way out. What seemed easy before became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit.

I feel this is the place our community has come to, as over the past few days we have been dealing with the tragic death of two of our high school students and the injury of two others; for whose recovery we now pray.  We, too, are in a dark cave, trying to desperately make sense of and find purpose in, our pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel that we are trying to walk through the brokenness of our situation, while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair! Personally, I have experienced the pain of my wife suffering a miscarriage; the near-loss of our child at one week of age; a daughter coping with chronic pain that eventually required three surgeries to correct; my mother’s battle with cancer; and currently, having to witness my father-in-law’s daily struggle with liver disease. Experiencing moments like these, we can all find ourselves in a desperate search for any guiding light through the darkness of our situation.

As my teammates and I continued to struggle through the cave, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly in the brightness of that light. While in itself the flashlight did not show us the exit, it gave enough light to show us the direction in which to go, and we made our way slowly forward to the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those in my community and to others facing their own tragedies, there is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. Lexi and Danielle both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly in our community as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to, who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

For we who remain after a tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. But we no longer have to navigate the darkness alone. This same Jesus, who gave light to Danielle and Lexi, is ready today to give light for us all. He hears our cries! He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit, to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live; like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’ ” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This has been a very sad and difficult week for the community that I live in. This past Sunday (February 10th), four high school students from our school district were in a severe accident. The accident led to the tragic death of two of the students. As I write this blog, the other two students are in the hospital dealing with a range of injuries. This tragic event has impacted me personally as my family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I use to coach one of the girls who died. In simplistic terms, this has been an emotionally difficult situation to deal with as it has brought me face to face with the reality that no one is immune from the tragedies of life. But despite this reality, it is in these moments where we learn the most valuable life lessons. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of community. As I spent time at the school on Monday talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together as one. Despite our differences, there was singularity in purpose. A powerful reminder that not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that same love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens. I hope and pray that you have others in your life that are helping you bear your burdens, and in return you are coming alongside them to bear theirs.

Along with the idea of community, this situation has reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much I love them. I need to live each moment with appreciation for the time that I have with my family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know, through both our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

A final impression that I have gained from this tragedy is how important it is to live our lives with purpose. As I stood watching the students flow into the room that was set up at the school for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear their stories about how their lives were enriched by knowing the girls who had died. One particular staff member told me that when they first moved here, her daughters had a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, but that the transition was made easier because one of the girls who had died introduced herself to her daughters and made them feel valued and accepted. This is a great reminder how just a simple word and action can make the difference in the lives of others. While our school has lost two remarkable young ladies, their memories will live on through those they impacted. Their lives were taken from us way too early but they leave a legacy that will continue for years to come.

In the uncertainty of this tragedy, I do see God actively involved. From the love and support of surrounding communities to the unity displayed by our faculty and students, I see God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY will continue to knock us off our feet, but it is the WHO that will enable us to stand back up. Though our faith in Jesus Christ is shaken, it will not be destroyed.  His loving arms are embracing our community and bringing comfort and hope in our time of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Bridge Burning

by Bill Rudge

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Photo  by Bill Rudge

Suppose you and I were in the military and our commanding officer said, “Up ahead is enemy territory and the only way to get there is by crossing this wooden bridge. Underneath the bridge is a body of water infested with piranhas, alligators, and poisonous snakes. Once we cross into enemy territory, we are going to burn the bridge behind us so there is no going back: It’s either death or victory!”

Likewise, when you give your life to Jesus Christ, you make a bridge-burning commitment: No going back. So, when I gave my life to Jesus Christ at the age of 18, I burned my bridges; there was no going back to my old lifestyle.

Besides, had I turned from the Lord, where would I go? Back to the martial arts and involvement in Eastern Religions, or the power of ki and ch’i? Back to a pleasure-seeking life: immorality, lust, and violence? All are inferior to the power of God and the relationship I have with Jesus Christ! None can compare to the fulfillment Jesus Christ has given me! They are not options for me.

Could I return to pretending there is no God? How, when I know the reality of the God of the Bible and have experienced His goodness? Perhaps I could go back to New Age spirituality and just go with the flow of whatever I want to believe and do – jumping on the bandwagon with other “Christians” who have compromised or abandoned a commitment to Jesus Christ and His Word. Yet, how could I (why would I) deny the faithful God of my life, or reject the truth of the Bible, or forfeit God’s genuine power and lose the comfort that comes from knowing Him?

Therefore, I am in no dilemma: There is no other alternative for me. I have tried them all. I have evaluated them all. There is only one option, and that is total commitment to Jesus.

Egyptian with One Arm

While ministering to the U.S. military in what was then West Germany, I had an opportunity to speak in a large house-church. Among the many West Germans and American GI’s, there were also several people from East Germany, Russia, Poland, Romania, and Egypt. Speaking through an interpreter, I shared parts of my testimony and the requirement to be totally committed. Many raised their hands in response to this challenge.

Following the message I remained for over an hour praying and sharing with several of the people. One man from Egypt was formerly a Muslim, who spoke to me through my interpreter in a combination of broken English and German. Between us we were able to decipher what he said: We learned that when he became a Christian, his Muslim family threw him off a train in an attempt to kill him, which resulted in the loss of his arm. This man, who had paid a tremendous price for giving his life to Christ, was not requesting prayer for his difficulties; rather prayer for him to know and serve Jesus even more. This man had a strong desire to grow closer to the Lord, no matter what the cost – a desire all believers should have.

Gave My All

Before I was a Christian, I was totally dedicated to weight lifting, karate, and the pursuit of pleasure. I was 100% committed to serving myself. How much more then, should I commit my entire life to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

You see, I am an “all or nothing” person. I either want to serve the Lord wholeheartedly or not at all. Anything less is really not Biblical Christianity. If I am going to live for Christ, my desire is to live for Him with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength. I will not settle for a superficial Christianity. I want everything God has for me. I believe you do, too. In this age of apostasy and compromise, God is raising up believers who refuse to live a nominal, shallow, or imitation Christianity. They are committed to the Lord and seek to walk in sensitivity and obedience to His Word and His Spirit.

Before I gave my life to Christ, I learned to use almost every part of my body as a weapon. I learned to use my hands, feet, knees, elbows, and fingers as destructive weapons. Should I not now seek to use every part of my life to glorify the Lord?

His Lordship affects everything we do and how we live. It affects:

• What our eyes see
• What our mouths speak
• What our ears listen to
• What our hands do
• Where our feet go
• What our minds think
• What attitudes we adopt
• What emotions we allow
• What our hearts desire
• How we care for our bodies (temples of the Holy Spirit)

His Lordship affects every aspect of our lives: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Have I Achieved Perfection?

Not in this life! We all struggle with temptation. However, commitment to Christ enables me to overcome any temptation so that nothing but He, Himself, controls me. I am not trying to be a self-righteous person. In fact, if you could follow me around, you would see flaws and imperfections in my life, but you would also recognize the sincere desire of my heart: to live totally for the Lord by glorifying Him in all things; to fulfill His purpose for my life and ministry. My righteousness is not that of self, but by the righteousness of God’s Son: my salvation is not the result of works or self-effort but by faith in Jesus Christ.

We become Christians entirely by God’s grace and mercy through faith. (See my book, Who Is This Jesus?) And, as the apostle Paul reveals in Galatians 3:2-5, we continue to live by faith after we are saved. Paul states in Galatians chapter 5:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free [from unsuccessfully trying to fulfill the law to earn our salvation]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh. … Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:1,13,24,25).

Therefore, we must achieve a balance of God’s grace, and our responsibility to live under Christ’s Lordship by walking in obedience to His Word.

Had to Grow

After committing my life to Christ, I had to grow. Sure, I failed and fell many times, but I did not lay there and quit nor give up in defeat. I asked for forgiveness, and by God’s grace, got back up and kept on going.

1 John 2:1 (written to believers) says:

I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

And 1 John 1:9 (also written to believers) states:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If a Sheep Falls in the Mud

I used to struggle with such questions as, “Does it matter if we fall into sin because we have Scriptural promises of forgiveness and liberty in Christ, or must we strive to live legalistically, trying to achieve perfection?”

A professor at Bible college helped to answer that with the following illustration. He explained that if a pig falls in the mud, it lays there and wallows in it because that is its nature. However, if a sheep falls in the mud, it gets out. It is contrary to its nature to lay in mud. So too, nonbelievers may wallow in sin without remorse or guilt, while believers who fall into sin will repent and come out as God’s Spirit deals with them and speaks to their hearts.

If you continue in willful sin, then you had better reevaluate your relationship with the Lord. I am not talking about making mistakes; rather if you have a pattern of continual, willful sin, there is something wrong. You need to examine your commitment to Christ:

No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him (1 John 3:6).

Feelings Change like the Weather

Our commitment to Jesus Christ must not be based on feelings. We may not always feel like praying or reading our Bible or doing what God wants. Sure, we may get discouraged and want to give up, but nowhere does the Bible say we should base our relationship with Christ on feelings. We live by faith and walk in obedience to God’s Word and Spirit.

I feel great when the Lord blesses, but even when I don’t see the blessings and even when things are going wrong, I still serve Him. My feelings may change like the weather, but my commitment to Him is unchanging!

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 Walking in Obedience as we continue this series.