Commitment is key. No matter what it is that we are talking about there is no greater determining factor than our commitment. I’m not talking about commitment by coercion. I’m not talking about commitment by convenience. I’m not talking about commitment by compliance or conformity. I’m talking about commitment to excellence! I’m not talking about one of those half-hearted commitments that causes you to show up when you feel like, give it your all when there is something to gain, or follow through only because of pressure. I’m talking about commitment to excellence! I’m not talking about one of commitments made because of duty because duty won’t do. I’m talking about commitment to excellence!

Whether we are talking about plumbing, carpentry, preaching, teaching, medicine, law, parenting, marriage, athletics or academics – it is one’s commitment to excellence that will largely determine their outcome over the long haul.

On October 13, 1962, a little boy was born in Starkville, Mississippi. His father was a bricklayer. As the young boy grew and matured he and his brothers would go with their father to the job site to help out. As he continued to grow, Jerry joined his father on the platform while his younger brothers would throw bricks up one-by-one for Jerry to stack for his dad. Jerry never dreamed that in catching brick after brick he was preparing for the most prolific professional football career that any receiver would ever experience. The Jerry I’m speaking about is Jerry Rice of the San Francisco Forty-Niners.

Jerry Rice graduated from high school and attended tiny Mississippi Valley State on a football scholarship. Out of college he was drafted in the first round as the 16th overall pick of the 1985 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He wasn’t even the first receiver chosen. There were two other receivers drafted before him; the New York Jets’ drafted Al Toon and then the Cincinnati Bengals chose Eddie Brown before Jerry was ever given the nod. Have you heard of those guys lately?

In the twelve years that Jerry Rice has played professional football he has always been known as the hardest worker in his profession. As the preseason rolled around this year Jerry arrived at training camp five days early – during the time for the rookies to report. Why would the most successful receiver in NFL history who is destined for the NFL Hall of Fame show up to workout with the rookies? Because Jerry is a champion who strives for excellence every day of his life.

The June 6, 1997 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the beginning of the Forty-Niners’ training camp. The article states, It’s hard to say what kind of impression the 49ers’ two top draft choices are having on new coach Steve Mariucci, but Jerry Rice certainly knows how to make the coach smile on the first day of training camp. “How about this,” Mariucci gleefully said at his opening press conference last night. “Jerry Rice was not invited to the rookies-and-selected-veteran camp. But he shows up anyway. He’s been here since Monday. Is there any wonder why the guy is the greatest? “We’re going to have to tell him, `Jerry get out of here. Let the other guys get some work, please,’ ” (San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 1997.)

It is easy for those of us who watch incredible athletes like Jerry Rice to consider their abilities and accomplishments and bow out of the race of excellence. It is not just athletes who have committed themselves to excellence my friend.

David Livingstone was one of the greatest missionaries who ever lived. He moved to Africa in the 1800’s, married his wife Mary in Africa in 1845, and never stopped pursuing excellence for the Kingdom of God during his lifetime.

There was a time when Dr. Livingstone was approached about the possibility of a missionary society sending some more men to help him in his efforts to reach the people of Africa. They wrote him a letter that read, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.” Livingstone wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

It is that type of mentality as we make our commitment to excellence that will guarantee our success over the long haul. You will notice as you study great men and women of excellence that they had a very narrow vision. Jerry Rice is not good at all things, but he is excellent at the one thing he had committed himself to in life. Dr. Livingstone didn’t pursue excellence in several fields, but only one – reaching people for Christ. The great violinist Fritz Kreisler testified to this point when he wrote of his own life.

Narrow is the road that leads to the life of a violinist. Hour after hour, day after day and week after week; for years, I lived with my violin. There were so many things that I wanted to do that I had to leave undone; there were so many places I wanted to go that I had to miss if I was to master the violin. The road that I traveled was a narrow road and the way was hard.

As we begin our study for today I want you to consider, “What is the one thing that you desire more than anything else to excel at?” I have no idea what that is for you. Some of you young guys or girls here may, like Jerry Rice, desire to be a world-class athlete. I say go for it! But if you are going to go for it then go for it. Don’t say you want to be a great athlete then lay around on the couch and get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Work, work, work, never stop working to hone your skills, develop your abilities, and pursue your dream.

Others here may have a desire to be a great musician, teacher, carpenter, or preacher. Don’t allow anybody or anything to stand in your way. You’ll have to say, “No” to much that the world has to offer so that you can say, “Yes” to your dream, but that is the only way you will ever achieve greatness. I do want to offer a word of caution to all of us as we think about where we will place our energy and time in committing ourselves to excellence. If you don’t first pursue excellence in your daily walk with the Lord and strive to know Him in a deep way, then all of these other things will mean absolutely nothing once you achieve your goal.

I can think of no greater illustration of what I am talking about than what transpired in the life of possibly the most celebrated entertainer of all time. Just last week the world paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It was kind of ironic since my family toured Graceland just a few weeks ago on our way home from vacation. While we were there we went through a large building that housed some of Elvis’ playthings. There were lots of cars including a purple Cadillac, pink Cadillac, and two Stutz Blackhawks. There were lots of motorcycles, go-carts, golf carts, and the like. Two of Elvis’ airplanes were on display outside of the building. One with Lisa Marie, the name of his daughter, painted in the side and the other with Hound Dog II etched on its exterior. It is said that Elvis had one of his planes make a trip to Denver one night simply to get him a peanut butter sandwich. Elvis had every opportunity that money could offer.

The boys and I toured Elvis’ home and saw his “jungle room” with some of the most bizarre looking furniture I had ever seen. We saw his poolroom with hundreds of yards of material tacked to the walls and ceiling. We walked through his racquet ball court where there was a huge statue of Elvis presented to him by his record label along with gold album after gold album. There is one huge building at Elvis’ house in Memphis that holds nothing but memorabilia and honors given to Elvis. Elvis had 18 number-one hits in his career and sold more than 1 billion records during his short lifetime!

Elvis Presley, twenty years after his death, has more than 500,000 people a year travel from all over the world to visit his house and he makes more than $250,000,000 a year.

Elvis achieved more fame and fortune than anyone could ever hope to achieve, but what meaning did it add to his life? Someone once said that Elvis was like a little boy seeking approval from those around him and when he didn’t get it he would suffer from bouts of depression, self-doubt, and longings to be loved. Elvis’ battles led him into drug abuse and casual sex with adoring female fans. Finally, Elvis died on August 16, 1977 at the young age of 42. All of this is simply to say, “Be careful what you pursue.” If you pursue the heart of God then He will steer you clear of the traps and trials that have led others into the snare of death.

I am convinced that for us to truly be able to enjoy the fruits of our efforts in committing ourselves to excellence in our chosen fields, we must first and foremost pursue excellence in our walk with God. We can’t afford to be distracted or entangled in anything that will lead us away from that one commitment – the consequences are too dire.

Take a look at Luke 8 where we will look at Jesus’ discussion of the parable of the Sower. While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: {5} “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. {6} Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. {8} Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” {9} His disciples asked him what this parable meant. {10} He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ {11} “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. {12} Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. {13} Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. {14} The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. {15} But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:4-15 NIV)

The parable of the Sower is one of the most well known parables that Jesus ever shared with the people. The Sower shows us that there are different responses to the same gift – the giving of the Word of God. For all of us here this morning the Word of God is being scattered upon all of our lives, but that should not lead anyone to believe that we will all leave here the same. Just because the Word of God is given doesn’t mean the receiver will allow the Word of God to shape and mold their life. Jesus says there are four different kinds of responses that people make to the Word of God. Out of the four types of people there is only type that truly is committed to excellence in his or her walk with the Father. Let’s take a look at the different types of people.

First, before Jesus ever tells us about the types of people He lets us know that the “seed” is the Word of God. Isn’t it interesting that the ‘seed” is scattered to all, the Sower doesn’t scattered only the ground that looks promising or productive – He scatters his seed upon all of the ground.

The seed doesn’t determine the outcome. The conditions of the soil and surrounding areas determine the outcome of what will happen to the seed. In the first instance, the Sower has some of his seed fall on the path and subsequently it is walked on and eaten by the birds. Jesus said, {5} “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.

In verse 12, Jesus tells us what this part of the parable means when He says, {12} Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. I know that many of you become weary of hearing me speak and write about “preparing ourselves for worship.” I have often said that we must do more than roll out of bed and stagger into the sanctuary on Sunday morning for worship to take place. I am convinced that Satan would desire nothing more for you and me than for us to be distracted on Sunday morning. We hustle into the church just after worship begins, spend the next ten minutes waiting for our heartbeat to resume its normal rate, try to figure out what is going on since we got in late, and then worry about if we are going to get out on time. When that happens God does not have a prayer of breaking through the hard, fallow soil of our hearts. We must prepare for worship. We must pray for God to bind Satan so that we can hear His Word and its meaning for our lives. We must pray for peace so that we can concentrate on what is taking place. We must yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that He can have His way with us.

If you are here this morning and you have never accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior then there is something you need to know. If you do not open yourself to the possibility that Jesus might be who He said He is then Satan will snatch salvation from you every time God gives you a chance to commit yourself to Him. It won’t just happen at worship. Satan will snatch salvation from you at the ballpark when a friend tries to tell you about Jesus and you brush him off. Satan will snatch salvation from you at the office when a friend gives you a book about Jesus that you refuse to open. He will snatch salvation from you at every turn if you don’t open yourself to the Father. There is a second type of person that Jesus spoke about in His parable.

In verse 6 Jesus says, {6} Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Seeds fell, they sprouted, and all looked well until the little plants began to wither because there was nothing to sustain them. I can’t even begin to count all of the folks who I have known through the years who have been the embodiment of this part of our parable. God will inspire some preacher with a moving sermon, the troubles of life will cause one to give Jesus a chance because they have no other place to turn for help, or a powerful song will grip someone and inspire them to make a commitment to Christ. All will be going well, they seem so excited about their newfound faith, or so it seems. The person who once never missed Sunday school or church, volunteered to give of their time to the Lord’s service, tithed their money, and shared their love for Jesus, slowly begins to fade. Then, one day, they quietly slip away never to be heard from again.

Jesus explained how this takes place when in verse 13 He said, {13} Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.

The crucial element missing from those Jesus is talking about is growth. Growth is essential if we ever want to mature. Peter wrote,

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. {2} Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, {3} now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Pet 2:1-3 NIV)

Peter tells us to long for pure spiritual milk like a newborn baby so that we can grow up in our salvation. Salvation is not the question, growing up into the fullness of our salvation is! God desires that we grow up into the fullness of what He has desired for us. It is no different than a coach who sees a promising young athlete whom he desires to see develop into what he can be. The coach will do whatever he can to help that young athlete fulfill his potential won’t he? If he won’t then he is not much of a coach. God desires for us to realize the potential He has placed within us. Paul also wrote about growth in Ephesians when he said,

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up {13} until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. {14} Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. {15} Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:11-15 NIV)

If you and I will give ourselves to seeking to grow in our faith by attending Bible study and worship to learn of God’s ways then I can assure you that you will not have to worry about falling into the category of the rocky soil. There are more opportunities for you to grow in your walk with the Lord around here than you can shake a stick at. There are Bible studies on Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Sunday night. Take advantage of the opportunities that are set before you and grow!

There is a third type of person that Jesus describes in His parable when He says, {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. In verse 14, Jesus defined what He alluded to in verse 7 by saying, {14} The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. So many things are choking the Word of God out today. Jesus starts out by talking about life’s worries. We have talked in the past about how our understanding of God can get us in trouble when life’s troubles come knocking. I don’t think Jesus is talking about us becoming disillusioned with God in this instance as much as He is talking about how being overly burdened with life’s worries will lead us away from tending to the growth of the seed. If I am expending all of my energy on worrying about this or that then I have precious little time to tend to the growth of garden of my walk with God. It is all about choices. What are you going to pour your life into and what in your life warrants your time and energy?

I have arrived at a conclusion that I believe best describes the predicament many of us face. We have too many options. When I was a kid growing up all we had was NBC, ABC, and CBS. Now those three media giants are getting lost in the shuffle and left out of the ratings because there are so many choices to choose from on television. In days gone by there weren’t nearly so many choices to be made and so choosing was simplified. On Sunday morning there was nohing going on – no stores were open, no athletic contests being played, no great programs on television. The only thing offered was going to Sunday school and church.

Today, not only are the stores open, the television blaring with the U.S. Open and such, but we are even being asked by our little league coaches to have our kids play ball on Sunday. Things have become complicated to say the least.

Opportunities for pleasure and pastimes will choke out the more important part of our life every time if we allow them. We planted a garden again this year and we decided to cut down on what we were going to plant. This year all we planted we tomatoes, bell peppers, purple onions, and watermelon. I have been fighting the watermelons all summer long trying to keep them off of the other plants. We were gone for two weeks on vacation and when we arrived home the watermelons had slowly inched their way over to the tomato plants and bell peppers. Somebody had to draw the line and put those watermelon vines back in their proper place. It is not that the watermelons are bad, they are very good in their proper place, but if I allow them to step over the line they will dominate the rest of my garden. When that happens we won’t be able to enjoy a dinner table full of vegetables – we will only eat watermelon!

Last of all Jesus speaks about the good soil, the soil that was committed to excellence, committed to having that seed grow to maturity. Listen to Jesus when He says, {8} Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. Jesus explains Himself when in verse 15 He says, {15} But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

There are two words in this sentence that I want to take a moment to talk about because of their importance for us who desire to be that “good soil.” The first word that Jesus uses is, “kate,cousin” (katechousin). The word means to “hold back, keep, or restrain.” The NIV says that the “good soil stands for those who with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” The reason it is so crucial for us to understand the word is because it is imperative for us to hold onto the word when Satan comes to snatch it away from us, when the storm clouds gather, and the winds swirl in to try and blow the Word away. Hold on to the Word! Protect it with all of your life! Don’t let anything steal it away from you. Preserve it! Hold onto it! Keep it close!

The second word that is important for us to understand is the Greek word, “hupomone.” The word means “patience, steadfastness.” “It is a steadfast adherence to a course of action in spite of difficulties and testings.” In Revelation 1:9 it contains a component of hope and confidence.

Jesus says that those who are the “good soil” are those who have patiently, with trust, continued to commit themselves to the growth and maturity of the Word of God in their life. You and I must never hurry the growth of the Word of God in our lives or we will become discouraged and disillusioned. We must commit ourselves to growing and do everything that we can to strive for excellence in pursuit of the heart of God. Then we must have the patient confidence that He is at work. Satan will come in to try and “snatch” the Word away by whispering lies in your ears, but hold on to your commitment. The winds of trouble will swirl in to try and sweep away the Word of God, but you hold on. The pleasures of life will try and nudge their way in to try and nudge out the Word of God, but you hold on! Commitment is essential. Commitment is crucial. Your commitment to excellence in your pursuit of Almighty God and your growth in Him will determine where you end up in this journey of life.

I pray that today you will make the decision to be that “good soil” that receives the Word of God with gladness and then guards that Word with all of your heart so that it may grow and thrive in your life.

Commitment To Excellence
Luke 8:4-15