It’s Not Magic

It’s Not Magic. We all have one thing in common, how to keep sin out of our lives? Even the Psalmist asked the question: “how can a man keep his way pure?” [Psalms 119:9 NIV] Then he turned right around gave the answer by saying “by living according to your word.” Our world is full of “how to” books and seminars. The most consistent answer to living as God would want us to live, is by realizing that it’s only by a divine intervention that man can shape his character so that is pleasing to God. God has provided us that divine intervention. It’s not magic. How do we do it? Be intentional about living according to God’s word. We start the process and God does the rest.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the New Year I make a resolution. I am never going to look at pornography again, ever. But that resolution soon gets broken. The problem is I am seeking God with my head and not my heart. It’s easy to agree with God’s word in my head. But it’s in the heart where God makes the changes. Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart where the “want” to look at pornography comes from, along with every other sin. God has the solution for us.

Memorization is one of the most effective tools God provides for us in combating sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But you might say “Well memorization is something you do with your head.” And you’d be correct. But here’s what happens. As we memorize God’s word we are actually hiding it in our heart. The Holy Spirit can remind us of how He wants us to live. It’s at that point that we have the opportunity to meditate on what we memorized. IF we choose, we can apply it to our lives. As we go through the process of considering what we memorized and considering what God is telling us, we gain the opportunity to try to apply it to our lives. And here is what’s really cool. One outcome is discovering that we are changing. We start delighting in reading His word. And the more we work the process the more we find that we will not neglect finding time get into His word.

The process memorizing, meditating and applying God’s word is much like the old illustration but we’ve all heard. A glass of muddy water stands on the counter. Move the glass under the tap and let the tap run water into the glass. Eventually the running water will push out the dirty water. As we fill our life with God’s words, the pressures of sin become negated and pushed away, replaced by God’s word. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Psalm 119:15-16 ESV]

Here are four things that from my experience I can count on:

  1. When I meditate on God’s precepts [directions for living] this affects my thoughts.
  2. When I fix my eyes on God’s ways this changes my attitude.
  3. When I delight myself in God’s statues [God’s permanent rules established to govern my internal life] this affects what I strive for.
  4. When I make a conscious effort not to forget God’s word, this changes what I remember; old things get nailed to the cross and God makes things new in my life.

Like I said the beginning this is not magic. God wants to support me changing my life. All He wants me to do is to start the action. Listen to the Psalmist: I seek…, I have hidden…, I rejoice…, I meditate…, and I delight. [vs. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 16] Only I can start the process of exchanging my dirty undrinkable water with His clean living water, Jesus. What are you waiting for?

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Who is listening to whom?

There is a lot of dialogue among Christians of varied persuasions about the techniques, abilities, and theology of how to listen to God [or even if God speaks today]. A young man told a group of us last night that he has often wondered “Where do the words come from that are a benefit to others, when they are not in my head to begin with?!”

How often have you felt like you were being prompted to say something to someone and immediately the following thoughts ran through your mind? “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘GOD? Speaks to him? Hardly!’” Or this objection: “Lord, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither in the past or today. I stutter and stammer.” Or the ultimate objection: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Sound familiar? Too often we think that we are not the right person for the job God has in mind for us. Of course, stopping to think our objection[s] through, we will see clearly it implies that God does not know what He is doing. It implies that He has randomly just picked me to go do or say something because I happen to be handily available.

I suspect that the real reason that we are resistant to following the prompting of God has to do with it taking us out of our comfort zone. We do not like being uncomfortable. And why are we uncomfortable? Because we have set boundaries around what we will do in obedience when God prompts us in some direction. The author of Hebrews quotes God writing: “… my righteous ones will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” And then he adds “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” [Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV] If we are to believe God, then shrinking back from doing what He wants us to do is to invite God’s displeasure in us.

God understands better than we do how uncomfortable it can be stepping outside of our ‘comfort boundaries.’ Jesus was there. He experienced that also. Our fear of stepping out be it to talk to a stranger or give a message really has to do with slavery. Who or what do we fear the most? Are we a slave to our fears; are we a slave to our individual preconceived boundaries of trust? Do we really believe it when God tells us, in writing, that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear …” If we doubt that God really means what He says, than we will miss out on opportunities of receiving blessings from God’s hand by failing to minister to others that He Himself put in our way. We are a slave if we fail to obey, which is an oxymoron because being a slave has to do with unwavering obedience.

Meditations on Proverbs – Proverbs 1:2b

Proverbs has been provided to us by God so that we are able “to discern the sayings of understanding.”

We seek understanding so that we can distinguish right from wrong. We seek wisdom and instruction so that we can discern truth from counterfeit. Our lives are short. God tells us that they are like smoke that curls up and disappears. In that short amount of time we need to be able to distinguish and perceive the words of what is true knowledge.

The Gospel, God’s good news for us, exceeds the understanding of a natural man. It takes a man willing to seek the face of God and then the Holy Spirit reveals the meanings of knowing; we come to an understanding of the Bible under the guidance and direction of the Spirit of God.

When we discern the Bible, we are able to form right notions of people, relationships and events around us. We gain discernment in to how to speak and act wisely, as well as to help others. Paul told the believers who lived in the town of Philippi that they would want to discern correctly the Bible so that they “may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”

F. B. Meyer I think said it best when he wrote about the benefits of studying Proverbs: “Certain it is that the [men] who ponder and practice these maxims can hardly fail of a successful career.”

Little things DO count …

For a lot of guys, living out the basics of the Christian faith just does not sound too exciting. Too insignificant. Not enough guts and glory. But it is the little things that usually stumble us. It happens in the spiritual world. It certainly happens in the natural world. Consider this:

In 1962, the Mariner 1space probe was launched to travel to Venus and provide information to NASA scientists. It never got there. It plunged into the Atlantic Ocean four minutes after takeoff. An investigation was initiated into the cause for the crash. What did these top minds find? They traced the fatal problem to the computer program directing the spacecraft. In the program, a single minus sign had been left out.

American Football 2

The way a follower of Jesus handles small things, both in attitude and execution. How we handle the football determines how we will handle larger game in ‘doing life.’ Reality check: Do I have the same attitude as Naaman?

11-12 Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet.

13 But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”

[2 Kings 5:12-13 The Message (MSG)]

I would recommend reading the whole chapter. Really insightful.

He did not rob me …

Humanly speaking, I have Dave Pauley to thank for diligently allowing God to speak and act through him, even when it was inconvenient, so that I would not stay in my original state sin. Looking back, he tithed his time above ten percent. Had he not he would have been a thief. When we withhold what God wants to do through us, we become thieves. He was an ordinary guy who refused to live for himself. Because he lived for others, he did not rob me of the blessing that God wanted in my life. He was the one who took the time to talk to me about my relationship to Christ. Because he was a saint [one set apart for the work of service in God’s Kingdom] I left my darkness and entered into the Light. Had he declined the mission, God would have raised up someone else. David was obedient. He did not always understand my doubts and hesitation and endless questions. But he was obedient and continued on patiently praying and talking to me. I finally “heard” the Gospel because David was obedient and faithful to God. And He gave some as … teachers … to the building up of the body of Christ; (Ephesians 4:12 NASB)

Ultimate Mandate

What direction are you taking in 2013?

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NASB)

This is the greatest motivation speech ever given by a man. Millions upon millions of people and uncountable monetary and material resources have been mobilized by this single speech given over 2000 years ago.

Jesus gathered around Himself a ragtag group of twelve men, and together they changed the world. After He died and rose again, those same disciples gathered around them other men and women, who were much the same kind of ragtag people, kept multiplying down through the centuries and are still changing the world today!

Without God’s direct intervention in our hearts our lives are reflective of ocean tides … they’re constantly changing. We as humans change our standards and make our talk and actions match what is currently culturally expedient. All during human history, God has not changed His standard for acceptance. All during human history, God has not changed His message. All during human history, God has not changed His methods of restoration or transformation. God does not change. “Jesus the same yesterday today and forever.”

That is the best news for the new year. There are those who are waiting to hear the Good News. If you have given your heart to Jesus then He has given you, as His disciple the authority to go. In our multicultural nation, other nations and cultures are waiting, just outside your doorstep. Will you go, just as you are, as Jesus commanded? God is eager to share His love but He only does it through ordinary folks like us. Go!

Trials

‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials.’ James 1:2

Trials are one of the common denominators for being human. However, my trials and yours are going to look and feel different because we are different. We all react differently to physical, financial, and relational trials. The operative word here is “when” not “if” we meet various trials. Trials can come about when we refuse to listen to counsel. Trials might result of someone we are connected with making a mistake [a spouse gossips] and we are caught up in the it. Trials can build over time [such as a disease] or crash in on us suddenly [like the unexpected death of a loved one]. Some trials will be public while others will be private. With a certainty all trials will test our faith. And all trials will bring us to a crossroads. The crossroad is the decision to resist the trial or to embrace this as an opportunity to grow more Christ-like. The most common response we start with is “Why is this happening to me?” Peter answers this age-old issue by telling us that  ‘…don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.’ (1 Peter 4:12 NLT). It is a matter of application. It is one thing to say that I believe in the sovereignty of God and quite another allowing God to be sovereign while we are experiencing a trial. Listen to the counsel of James under the inspirations of the Holy Spirit: ‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…that you may be perfect and complete.’ (vv. 2-4 NAS). Trials have a way of clearing out the religious baggage we accumulate over time if we are willing to go back to the basics of our faith. Am I willing to stop whining about the trial and get quiet before God? Am I willing to cease my activity and spend some time listening to the One who wants me to mature?

Learning to Obey

I remember back when I was five years old and I visited my grandparents farm for the first. Granddad took me around shortly after arriving and showed me the electric fence that ran along the side of the house and told me that this fence ran on pulsating current. He then took me into the barn and showed me this large panel with a flashing light on it and told me that electricity was charging the fence each time the light came on.  The next day my Grandparents were out working in the vegetable garden that lay near the electric fence. I remember stand near the fence, with my back to them and looking at the fence. It looked harmless enough.  Granddad saw me standing there and reminded me that the fence would shock me if I touch it. I continued to stand there fascinated by the fence. I looked back over my shoulder to see if he was watching and then quickly touched the fence and pulled back. Nothing happened. I looked again and he seemed to be busy with his worked and so I quickly touched the fence again. Still no shock. Maybe the fence was not working. Maybe he told me that the fence would shock me to I would not climb on it. Now I became bold. I grabbed the wire and turned and said to Granddad: “Look Granddad I can …” Next thing I knew I had a nasty jolt of electricity run through me. 

I remember also when I was about eight years old and we had just moved into a house that had an electric stove. Up until that time our stove had all been gas. The first time that I saw Mom using the stove I commented on how red the burner got so it must be really hot. I remember Mom carefully explaining to me that yes it was extremely hot but to never touch the burners because even if they were not red did not mean that they were not hot. I went out to play. Later I came back in for some cookies and milk and she was still cooking. I watched her turn on  a burner, the burner turn red and heat up the stuff she was cooking and then turn off the burner. It cooled down because it was no longer red. She took the pan off of the burner. I sat there at the kitchen table finishing my cookies and milk fascinated by the burner. It was black now. So I got out of my chair, walked straight up to the stove and said to my Mom: “See it is not hot now” and stuck my hand on the burner. Less than a second later I was screaming in pain. The black burner that did not look hot was.

In the intervening years since those childhood memories, I have seen some patterns. Children learn to say “no” very quickly in life because they are interested in doing what they want to do.  Athlete’s will refuse to follow the coaches direction because they think they know better. College Students will defy school rules because they feel they are wiser. Driver’s will refuse to obey the rules of the road because they are in control.  The Israelites told God that they would obey everything they were told but then turned around and rebelled;  refusing to obey God during the Exodus. Christians today refuse to obey God and be holy like He is holy because it is not convenient or runs counter to what everyone else is doing.

 So what is going on here?

 For children, they end up getting into trouble with lots of tears being shed. The Athlete will get thrown off the team. Students will be suspended or thrown out of school. Drivers will end up with fines or jail time. The Israelites ended up losing a whole generation while wandering around in a hot desert, eating something tasteless called Manna.  Christians end up never knowing good things that God has in store for them. 

 And it is all because they have never learned to obey the simple things that God asks.

 All of us have at one time or another, have been challenged and had a difficult time obeying God.

 Think for a moment …

 What areas of your life … or particular situation … or particular person … causes the most struggle for you to obey God?

 Holy Spirit: Would You take God’s truth and powerfully amplify it in our hearts; cause us to find renewed interest; selectively use the words spoken this morning to draw to attract, to edify, to convict, and to save.

 I love studying the life of Peter. He is so much like us today. One minute he is acting in a carnal way, the next like a spiritual man. There are times when he gets what Jesus is teaching and other times he is totally baffled and jumps to the wrong conclusions. But here is the thing, as many times as Peter got into trouble, when Jesus corrected him, he did not give up but kept learning to obey.

1 Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. [Luke 5:1-2 NASB]

Imagine the sounds and smells of the scene unfolding here. One of the things I do as I study the Bible is try to imagine what it would have been like to be part of the scene. So imagine with me ….

It is a little after sun up and the fishing fleet is returning to the docks. They have been out fishing all night. A small breeze is blowing. The smell of old fish, receding tide and sweaty bodies hangs heavy in the air. Sea gulls are screeching and scrapping overhead. One dives, landing and grabs a scrap of fish left from yesterday. Suddenly all of them are squawking and crowding around the lucky gull trying to snatch its prize. it sounds very much like all of them are screeching the same thing:  “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Remmeber Finding Nimo?

An old man named Zebedee is standing at the edge of the stone pier waving to one of the boats. James tosses the line to his father while his brother John steers the boat into the dock to be tied up. As Zebedee ties up the boat, one glance in the boat tells him that this has not been a productive night. Peter and Andrew bring their boat in next to their partners and tie up. Nobody is in a good mood. They have just spent the night heaving heavy nets along the shallows hoping to catch some fish. They burned up many torches trying in vain to attract fish to the light. They tried every trick that any seasoned fisherman knows about but they failed.

 The docks are crowded with fishermen busy washing down and drying out their nets. Nets are hanging on drying racks as fishermen run their eyes and hands over the nets looking for tears to mend. A noisy crowd of house wives are crowding the docks to get the best pick of the fish before it went to the marketplace. Buying it now meant it was the freshest for the breakfast meal. But this had been a bad night fishing. Very little fish to sell.

 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And he sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.” [Luke 5:3-5 NASB]

 One of the first jobs I had was worked on a fishing boat. I know from experience the life of a fisherman involves a lot of sore muscles, long hours, and often little results. Can you imagine what was going through Peter mind?  As I considered what Jesus had requested and how Peter responded. I came up with Four things that were possibly going through Peter’s head.

Number One: Seasoned fishermen in the area knew that the fishing was best close into shore, not out in deep water. Their nets were designed to trap fish in shallow waters.

 

Number Two:  Every fishermen worth his salt knew that the fish would not be biting at mid morning.  Fisherman knew that the best time to catch the fish living in the coastal waters was at night by using a torch to attract the fish.

 Number Three: Peter knew that Jesus was a carpenter by trade turned traveling rabbi!.  So he wondered why a carpenter, much less a holy man, would think that He knew more about fishing than Peter who did this for a living?

 Number Four: While Jesus had been preaching, Peter and his partners had been busy washing and setting out the nets to dry. Now Jesus wanted he and Andrew to pull the nets off of the drying racks, arrange them on the boat, set sail into deep water and put the nets in water where there were no fish at a time of day if there were fish they would not be biting. Wow! What a waste of time.

 Can you see how Peter struggled to obey Jesus … especially in an area of his life where he is the “expert!”

 “but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.”

 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. [Luke 5:6-7 NASB]

 Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. How would you have responded to fish showing up where they should not have been, at a time of day that was wrong for catching fish?

 There is another account in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, where he records Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine And Jesus uses ordinary folks … lowly servants … as partners for the miracle. You remember the story. They are at a wedding feast in Canaan. Mary comes to Jesus with some servants and tells Him that the wine is almost gone. Jesus responds with “so what is that to Me…” I love Mary’s response: she turns to the servants and simply says, “Do whatever He says!”

 He gave the servants two simple commands: First: Fill the jars with water. Second: Draw some out to take to the master of the banquet. The servants did exactly what he told them to do, even though it had to have seemed crazy at the time! Have you ever tried to imagine what thoughts must have gone through their heads as they were carrying the jars of water? What nerve it must have taken to deliver what they thought was water to the head master. Jesus’ was able to create this miracle because these guys simply did what Jesus said to do even though it seemed insane. Their obedience led to a blessing in their lives and in the lives of those at the banquet.

 God’s working in our lives starts with obedience in the ordinary stuff of living.   

 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; [Luke 5:8-9 NASB]

 Why did Peter respond this way? He responded the same way that his ancestor Abraham, Job and Isaiah had responded when they realized they were in the presence of God; they fell down realizing how sinful they were.  The magnitude of this miracle in this area of Peter’s expertise was incredibly humbling for Peter.

 Peter does not, the way we do today, go for a high five with Jesus. Instead, Simon realizes his own sinfulness compared to the incredible holiness of Jesus. He senses his unworthiness and falls to his knees. When Peter confessed: “I am a sinful man” Jesus did not argue with him. This was not news to Jesus. What is amazing is that Jesus did NOT depart from this sinful man. God changes and works through sinful people … the only kind of people available here on earth! 

 10 and so also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. [Luke 5:10-11 NASB]

 Here is another decision. “they left everything and followed Him.”  I do not think that a decision of this magnitude could have been made without the previous smaller decision. Life is full of these smaller decisions that prepare us for the bigger ones. This decision to leave all had a huge financial impact. This was a windfall catch and they were walking away from the financial benefit of it.

 Jesus teaches us through Peter how important those small decisions are to obey in everyday living. And Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding … [at Your asking] … I will let down the nets.”[verse 5]  It is interesting to note that Peter did not know Jesus very well at this point. But he calls Christ “Master.,” He is not calling him Master with confidence.  Fishing in this lake was Peter’s business and he really claimed superior knowledge on this occasion to that of Jesus.

 By definition, ‘bidding’ simply means to give an order or a command 

A synonym for bidding would be a request or an instruction [Jesus gave specific instructions as to where He wanted Peter to take the boat]  

I love antonyms. Often this is where we can get a real sense of the meaning of the word.  Here is what Peter could have said:

 To defy, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, So  I am going to defy Your bidding and not  let down the nets because I know You are wrong about this.”

 Disobey: “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, And I am tired and I am feeling cranky so I am just not going to do Your bidding”

 Rebel against: “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing so how dare you jump into my business  and make insane demands where I  obviously have superior knowledge!”

 So ponder on this: The Scriptures are of little value if all we do is read them. The Bible gives this bidding found in Joshua chapter 1 verse 8: This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night,  so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

 In your heart of hearts, have you used this sort of language with God?

 For example:

  • Have you hear God speaking to you but you are hesitant to obey because this runs counter to your experience or your area of expertise.
  • Have you understood what God wants you to do but it seems too hard or too risky.
  • Has there been a time when you have heard God tell you to step out in faith and forgive someone … and you tell God that He needs to first change your heart before you will forgive that person?

 There are many disadvantages to not being obedient to the Bible. Peter like so many of us, lived full of self-reliance. He was an expert fisherman. Fishing was what he knew and was good at. What I have noticed is that when God speaks to me about obeying in some area, if that area is an area of personal strength and know-how, my bedience comes at a greater struggle.

 We have all heard stories from Christians Who have related that they knew that God was asking them to be obedient in something and they tell of choosing … purposely choosing to defy God and chose to do their own thing. And the consequences were horrible and sometimes long lasting. We will discover that by not being obedient in the small things, we will never know the “plans that God have for me,’ ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give me a future and a hope.” Our obedience to the Word of God is the key that opens the door to God blessing us.

 So what is the benefit or advantage of being obedient to what God tells us? Peter’s experience is beneficial to us today. When we trust Christ, when we listen to His truth contained in the Bible and to the stirrings of our soul through the Holy Spirit, things begin to happen in our lives.

 But nothing can happen until we decide to trust and obey. 

 Often, when we as Christians, walk together supporting each other through a patch of tough times, The question will arise … “Where is God in all of this difficulty?” Too often, we fail to see a Sovereign God at work.  It is like a new thought for us … God is here midst the trouble?  Many times [not always] we are startled to find from the Scriptures, that we are not obeying God completely … Or maybe not at all in some particular area.  Usually the issue … The reason that we are not obeying God completely is that we want God to bless us first … We want God to change our feelings first and then when we see the blessing or the change in our lives we say that we will obey.

 The Bible is full of accounts of this common error of men. The sad thing is that more than a few people … such as the rich young ruler that Jesus talked to … He was so close and yet He refused to do the bidding of God in one area and so their life continues in chaos.

 The benefits of obeying everything that God tells us is too numerous to be counted. While the results of our obedience may not be as dramatic as the miraculous haul of fishes, they are nonetheless real and meaningful.  God can only start to work in our lives after we say like Peter: “Master, I worked hard and cannot seem to get it right. but at Your bidding I will do as you say.”

 Here are three things you can do:

1.  Pay attention and be faithful to small opportunities to obey that God puts before us. Life is full of small decisions that are God’s tools to prepare us for the bigger opportunities to obey.

 2.    When God seems to be asking you to be obedient in something that does not make sense to you, make this your prayer: Lord Jesus, when you tell me to do something, help me to do it even if it doesn’t make any sense. Help me to believe every word that You have spoken through Your word.

 3. God can only start to work in our lives after we are willing to surrender our expertise and say like Peter: “Master, I worked hard and cannot seem to get it right. but at Your bidding I will do as you say.”

 Learning to Obey … stay with us till next time when we will bring you more Comfort, more Truth and more Love.

It’s All About Choices

It’s All About Choices

John 12:24-25

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.