You Make a Difference: Total Commitment
Not long ago, I was on a long uneventful flight home to Orlando. I suppose one ought never to complain about an “uneventful” flight, but in this case “uneventful” translated into “boring.” In fact, at one point in order to relieve the tedium, one of the flight attendants took to the P. A. system to share with us a string of male jokes. Have you heard them? They are funny, but they do enable you to see right through those of us who are men. Let me give you a sampling.
- What’s the difference between government bonds and men? Government bonds mature!
- What’s a man’s idea of helping with the housework? Lifting his legs so you can vacuum!
- What’s the best way to force a man to do sit-ups? Put the remote control between his toes!
- What’s the difference between a man and E. T.? E. T. phoned home!
- Why is psychoanalysis a lot quicker for men than for women? When it’s time for him to go back to his childhood, he’s already there!
- How are men like noodles? They are always in hot water; they have no taste, and they need dough!
- Why is it good that there are female astronauts? When the crew gets lost in space, at least someone will ask directions!
- What did God say after he created man? “I can do better than this!”
Well, nobody was better at seeing through men than Jesus. He always cut right to the bottom line in sizing up the character and commitment of a person. He could see right into another human heart. Remember how quickly He spotted the loneliness of Zaccheus, the mixed-up priorities of the Rich Young Ruler, the crafty deceit of the Pharisees, and the traitorous intent of Judas. He was expert at seeing through the facades people put up to the truth of what actually is inside them. But perhaps the best example of all is found in Luke 9, when three men approached Jesus, expressing the desire to become His disciples. Somehow Jesus sensed that these three men were not totally committed. So by calling them to that kind of total commitment, He forced them to acknowledge that each wanted to put certain conditions on his discipleship. Each said: “Lord, I will follow you, but first let me do this or that or the other.” Jesus knew that this kind of conditional discipleship could never work. After all, He and His disciples were headed toward a life-and-death showdown in Jerusalem. And the fact is that conditional discipleship works no better now than it did then.
The first man who came to Jesus said: “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.” Sounds good, maybe too good. That’s the problem here. This fellow talked a good game, but He sensed that he was not really ready to give the allegiance and make the sacrifices demanded by discipleship to Jesus Christ. This man wanted to “talk the talk without walking the walk.” He was quick with words but slow with action. He delivered a high-sounding affirmation of faith, but he was not ready to back it up with the commitment of his time, talent, and treasure. Jesus saw right through him and turned him away.
The second man said: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus’ answer to him seems at first glance to be rather harsh: “Let the dead bury the dead.” Upon closer examination, we realize why Jesus answered as He did. I mean, if this man’s father had just died, what is he doing standing out here on the roadside? You see, what this man was really saying was this: “Lord, I will follow you, but later on, after my father has died, and I become the head of my household, and I have financial security.” Of course, that might be five years, ten, twenty—who knows? Jesus knew. Jesus realized that the man had missed the urgency of the moment, the urgency of the call. You see, at the moment of this encounter, Jesus was on His way to the cross—and He sensed that this man was not ready to totally commit himself. Jesus saw right into the man’s heart and turned him away.
The third man said: “Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus replied: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom.” Now we miss the point if we think Jesus is attacking family life here. Certainly not! No, Jesus had sensed, either through the tone of voice or the manner of posture or the shifty eyes or the awkward indecision that it was not this man’s family holding him back. No, it was his own hesitation, his own stalling, his own inability to break with the past and to deal with change—that was his problem. He was so committed to the way things were that he couldn’t commit himself to the way things might yet be. He was so tied to the “old” he missed the “new”. Jesus spotted that in him immediately and turned him away.
What we have here are the quickly drawn portraits of three men each of whom were seeking a conditional kind of commitment to Jesus Christ. And Jesus in essence is saying to them and to us, “Conditional commitment never works.” Jesus calls us to total commitment to him. Nothing less will do. Jesus knew that that kind of commitment is the stuff of which great people are made. If you want to make a difference in your life, and if you want a difference to be made in your life, then you need to commit yourself totally to the cause of Jesus Christ in the world. That is the word of the Master. That kind of commitment we see all the way through Scripture and all the way through the history of the Christian church. It’s Job saying out of the midst of great pain: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” It’s Suzanna Wesley calling all of her children to her deathbed and saying to them: “Children, as soon as I am released, sing a hymn of praise.” It’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer praying in a concentration camp: “Lord, whatever this day may bring, Thy name be praised.” It’s the Apostle Paul writing from a prison call: “Rejoice, again I say, rejoice. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Total commitment, commitment without conditions. That is our calling as Christians. Now let me stir up for you three basic ingredients in the recipe for total commitment to Jesus Christ…
First, total commitment means living everyday in the spirit of unconditional gratitude.
Real gratitude never depends on circumstances or on the quality of material things we possess. Make no mistake, I hope you will count your material blessings, but remember that as Christians, even if we didn’t have a lot of possessions we could still be grateful, because God is with us and God is for us. That’s the real reason we can be grateful.
I find it downright fascinating to note that the most magnificent expressions of gratitude in history came from people who did not have a lot of material things. Think about it: Jesus, who had no place to lay His head; Luther, in hiding for his life; Francis of Assisi, who was voluntarily poor; Helen Keller, blind and deaf; Mother Teresa, living with life’s losers; the Pilgrims, hungry, scared and cold at Plymouth Rock. Unconditional gratitude. Gratitude with no strings attached. That was the watchword of their lives because they knew God was with them and would not let them go. Life was hard, times were tough, but God was there—that was all that mattered!
Back in the early days of the church, a strong, sweet-smelling incense was burned in the worship services and the aroma would literally saturate the clothing of those in church. People could tell by their aroma that they had been to church. Isn’t that wonderful? People could tell by their aroma that they had been in the presence of God. Now let me tell you something. The fragrance of the totally committed Christian is: “unconditional gratitude.” When you are in the presence of one who is grateful to God in all circumstances, you are aware of it immediately. The sheer quality of their living is so sweet that you can catch the aroma of it. That’s one of the main ingredients for a life totally committed to Jesus Christ—unconditional gratitude.
Secondly, total commitment means living everyday in a spirit of unconditional surrender.
Don’t let the word “surrender” throw you. I would like for us to reclaim that word as it was used originally in the New Testament. Unfortunately, in our time, the word has come to mean “weakness, defeat, giving up.” David MacLennan tells of the little boy who was asked to write the definition of a Christian. “Christians,” he wrote, “are mild, weak, quiet people who never fight or talk back.” Then he added: “Daddy is a Christian. Mother is not.” Sounds like Dad had given up! But that is not what the word “surrender” meant in the New Testament. In the New Testament, men and women who were courageous, powerful, and outspoken were called “surrendered people.” You see, in Scripture, surrender means obedience to God’s will. It means cooperation with God’s purpose. It means submission to God’s direction. It means commitment to God’s cause in the world.
Some years ago, the great Japanese Christian Kagawa was on a speaking tour. He was asked by a college student to define the Christian life. The audience fully expected Kagawa to give a highly theological description of what it means to live for Jesus Christ in the world. He surprised them by defining the Christian life with one word! “Surrender.” Now if that word “surrender” still bothers you, then use the word “trust.” It’s the same thing. And it is nowhere more poignantly displayed than in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus said: “Not my will, Father, but Thine be done.” That is unconditional surrender, unconditional trust, unconditional obedience to God’s directions in your life—saying: “Lord, not my will, but Thine be done.” That’s one of the main ingredients for a life totally committed to Jesus Christ—unconditional surrender.
One other thought. Total commitment means living everyday in the spirit of unconditional love.
In Jesus, we see what God is like. Jesus is the best picture God ever had taken! And in Jesus, God is saying: “Look! That is how I love all of you. My love for you is unconditional, it is unselfish; it is everlasting. Nothing you can do will ever stop me from loving you. You can betray me, deny me, taunt me, beat me, curse me, spit on me, nail me to a cross—and I still will not stop loving you. You cannot keep me from loving you. I love you unconditionally.”
And that is the way God wants us to love each other. If I belong to Jesus Christ, I can never say “I will love you if you are good to me or if you agree with me or if you are nice to me, or if we share the same interests or if you are my same color or if you see eye-to-eye with me politically of if you love me back.” I can never say that in the spirit of Jesus Christ. The only way I can be true to Jesus Christ in my daily life is to love unconditionally, to love expecting nothing in return, to love unselfishly.
There is an interesting legend that comes out of ancient Greece that describes the dangers of putting conditions on our love for others. According to the legend, two Greek athletes were close friends, like brothers. But then one of them began to receive more recognition, even to the point where the townspeople built a statue of him to honor him as their number one athlete. The other one became insanely jealous; so much so, that every night he would go out after dark and try to destroy the statue. Finally, he succeeded. He managed to topple the heavy statue off its pedestal, but it fell on him and crushed him to death. He was destroyed by his own envy, crushed by his own selfishness.
Contrast that with an incident from the life of Robert E. Lee. He was not only a great general, he was an extraordinarily committed disciple of Jesus Christ. He was once asked his opinion of a certain man. General Lee responded: ”He is a fine and able man and I commend him to you highly.” The questioner protested: ’’But, General Lee, don’t you know that this man talks behind your back? Don’t you know the terrible things he says about you?” The great Robert E. Lee replied: “Yes, I know, but you didn’t ask me how he felt about me. You asked me what I think of him—and I think he is a fine and able man and I commend him to you highly!” That, my beloved, is unconditional love—and it is one of the main ingredients in a life totally committed to Jesus Christ.
In 1950, a man named Clarence Jordan started a farm in Americus, Georgia. It wasn’t an ordinary farm, but then Clarence Jordan wasn’t an ordinary man. He possessed two Phd’s, but more than that, he was totally committed to Jesus Christ. The farm was developed by Clarence Jordan as a place where poor whites and blacks could live and learn and survive and even thrive together. There was strong resistance to Clarence Jordan and his farm. For fourteen years, he was scorned and threatened and persecuted. Finally in 1964, the Ku Klux Klan came in the middle of the night with guns and torches and they set fire to all the fields and all the buildings on the farm. They confronted Clarence Jordan and threatened to kill him if he did not leave the farm. Clarence Jordan recognized the voice of one of the Klansmen as being a reporter from a local newspaper.
The next day, Clarence Jordan, with all that he had built in smoking ruins around him, went back into the fields. He began hoeing the ground and planting seeds. The reporter whose voice he had recognized the night before, suddenly appeared in the field to interview him. He said: “I’ve come out to do a story on the closing of your farm.” Jordan just kept hoeing and planting. Finally the reporter said in very condescending tones: “Well, Dr. Jordan, you’ve got two Phd’s and you’ve put fourteen years in this farm and now there’s nothing left. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?” Clarence Jordan, leaned on his hoe, leveled a penetrating gaze toward the reporter and said: “Sir, I don’t think you understand us Christians. What we are all about isn’t success. What we are about is faithfulness.”
Yes, that’s what Christians are all about—faithfulness, living everyday in total commitment to Jesus Christ. Yes, that’s what you and I are all about