Jesus gives an earthly example
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24 NASB]
Science cannot unlock the mystery of life. They search and find clues about life but the essence of life remains hidden. I think God specifically has hidden this away. It knowledge is just too powerful for fallen man to know about and use.
Jesus talks about the kernel of wheat dying. In effect this is the action that must take place. If the kernel of wheat is not willing to give up what it is now then it will never know the potential that is locked up inside of its self. Dying then is really transformation. Transformation cannot take place unless there is a willingness to change and change means giving up [dying to] what I hold sacred. Transformation is costly. One little kernel of wheat can reproduce anywhere from 50 to 150 kernels of wheat. All it takes is for it to give up its rights to remain a hardened little kernel of wheat.
It is sort of funny to think of a kernel of wheat being put into the ground and then refusing to go through the transformation process to reproduce itself. Jesus says that in making the decision to do so it will remain isolated and alone. Over the centuries we have had Christian Hermits; men and women that thought the best way to serve Christ was to become isolated from the world. But the very phrase Christian Hermit is an oxy-moron. Jesus’ last command to us was to “go and make disciples in all nations” so remaining isolated is to countermand what Jesus wants us to do. Fruit can only be produced in the context of relationships.
Jesus brings application
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” [John 12:25 NASB]
Life is full of choices. Some are good and some are not so good. Yesterday Kathe and I went to Baskin Robins for some ice cream. I love Baskin Robin’s ice cream. It is so favorable and creamy. But I hate having to make one choice out of the 31 flavors offered. I walk up and down in front of the display case containing all of the tubs of ice cream trying to decide what flavor I want. It takes me sometimes five minutes of pacing before I choose. It is frustrating. However, going to Dairy Queen is a different story. Peanut Buster Parfait is the only thing I get there. It is so good. Layers of chocolate, soft serve ice cream and peanuts. It is a heavenly dish. One choice and it is always the same.
So whether it is choosing an ice cream flavor or choosing how I will live my life, it still is a matter of choice. Remember back in the Garden when God said to Adam: “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” In order to make good choices we need to understand the field of choices. First, there are things we know we know. I know how to drive a car. Second, there are things in life that we know that we do not know. I know that I do not know how nuclear fusion works. But we forget that there is a third category in life of things that we do not know that we do not know. And this is where Adam got tripped up. God was speaking about a spiritual death followed by a physical death in the future. He was speaking about a broken relationship, not immediate physical death. Adam made a choice about his agenda and not God’s.
Jesus is saying that if you “love your life” you will lose out on the success that I want to do through you. If I cling to my life; if I cling to my success; if I cling to my agenda I will lose all of the opportunities that God has for me. And my success, my career and my promotions are nothing more than hay, wood and stubble that will not survive the fire of judgment when I get to heaven. They have no eternal value because they are done with my efforts. However, if I”hate my life” that is let go of my success, my agenda, my career; I will be available for God to work through my life for eternal purposes. “Hating” really means to prefer less.
Many years ago as a young Christian I was approached by a pastor friend to move into a newly developed apartment complex and start a neighborhood bible study. He said that he thought that I would be a good fit for this ministry because of my personality and gifting. I did not think about it very long before I turned him down flat. My reason? I was just starting a career in telecommunications, I was newly married so had to buy a house. Looking back, I lost a great deal of time and energy to things that had no eternal value. It is not that buying a house is bad or building a career is wrong. It is the way I was valuing those things. I was grasping on to things that were of interest to me and not concerned with what God may want to do through me.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” [Rom 12:1 NASB]
Whenever I read this verse I have to smile. I have this mental image of living sacrifices crawling onto the altar of some choice that they are making and then scampering off of the altar when the choice become too hard. God wants us to choose Him over our own wishes. He does not want auto bots. He wants living creatures that love Him enough to worship Him through service.
We love going to church on Sunday morning and worshipping. But I have come to realize recently that this is only the icing on the cake. The real worship happens in the daily grind of living at home, at work, and with my neighbors. Worship is more than just Sunday. God looks for it in the everyday living that I do. How obedient am I going to be? God told the Israelites’ to get those stinking sacrifices away from Him because the sacrifices denied the reality of their behavior. They refused to obey Him. God sees obedience as worship and worship as obedience.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;” [Rom 12:10 NASB]
The hardest time to follow this injunction of being “devoted to one another” is when we get our feelings hurt by another Christian. When my brother gets angry with me for whatever reason, how do I respond?
To give preference to someone is the opposite of putting me first. If my wife asks me to take out the garbage and I ignore her and continue to watch the football game, I cannot say that I am giving preference to her.
If I say I honor Kathe and then talk about her behind her back like so many men do, I am not honoring her but dishonoring her. To honor someone is to show public esteem. If I build Kathe up by talking about the good things that she does in public then I highly esteem her.
The point is that I am not able to make good choices unless I am willing to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Rom 12:2 NASB]
Jesus sets the cost
“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” [John 12:26 NASB]
Serving equals following. Following means serving. When we serve Jesus we are doing what He wants and not what we want. Following Jesus means we will be serving Him. Serving is all about not doing my own thing but “looking on the things of others.”
Suppose a nurse goes into a patient’s room and upon checking the chart she finds that the Doctor has prescribed a certain medication to be given in a three milligram dose. The nurse looks from the chart to the patient and seeing that she looks pretty sick decides that the patient really needs five milligrams. That is not serving the patient but the nurse. You do not want nurses that want to play around with their creative medicine. You want a nurse that is willing to follow the Doctors orders.
When we were getting ready to leave for the mission field we both were in the very best paying jobs of our careers. Combined we were making six-figure income and our health insurance was premium quality and completely free. These were the jobs were going to retire from. These were the jobs that were going to help us build a nest egg for retirement. And then God tapped us on the shoulder and effectively said that He wanted to change our careers. He had another job for us and He wanted us to come join Him. Oh, and payday would be in the future. We had to make a decision as to whether we were going to hang on tight or die to the worldly success we were experiencing. Most thought we were nuts.
Going to another country like South Africa can take one way out of the comfort zone. Things are done differently. Customs are different and strange and do not make sense. Things that we took for granted in the US we found to take lots of thought and careful planning. Food stores are not the same. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road was a night mare for the first month. And the list goes on. People often ask if we would do it again. Our answer is always an emphatic “Yes!” Even though we were out of our comfort zone, God was busy using us as foreigners to do and be who we were in places where others could not go.
Serving others means loving unconditionally those who are unlovable. Years ago I and another individual worked for an international company here in California. From the day I met him I could not stand to be around him. His demeanor and attitude just set my teeth on edge. He shunned any Christian influence. He lied about lots of stuff and was a manipulator of par excellence caliber. There are few people who I have met in my life that I could not stand … and Herb was one of them. About a year into this cranky association, through some staff shuffling he ended up being my manager. Instantly I knew that I had a choice. I could learn to love him unconditionally. I could quit my job. Option one was impossible and option two was impracticable. I complained to God about the unfairness of it all … after all was I not the better and more honest employee? But God kept asking me who I thought I was holding myself up as better than he. I still complained and then he asked me why I should not love this guy who was made in His image. I had a choice. I choose to love this guy as God’s image bearer, regardless of how flawed he looked to me. He did not change. I changed. My heart changed. By the end of another six months I got several opportunities to share snippets of the gospel with him … I got to plant some seeds. But I first had to make a choice.
So what is all of this lead to?
“Some Greeks… came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” [John 12:21 NASB]
Today … How can men see Jesus?
When we follow the example of a kernel of wheat and die to our selfish desires.
It starts with one little kernel of wheat … and a choice.