Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rewards for . . . ?

The dictionary says that a reward is something given or received in return or recompense for service, merit, hardship, and so on.

The Bible says that eternal life is a reward, but it is not earned or deserved by anything anyone does:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

So how can a “reward” be given to someone who has not done anything to earn it? And why call the end result of putting our faith in Jesus Christ a reward when it is not a wage or a recompense? Is this about splitting hairs? Or is it about fine-tuning the concept of how those rewards are earned?

Some passages speak of rewards for being faithful with what the Master has given us.  Jesus indicates that these rewards could vary in degree. He uses a parable to describe a master who said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21) The servant didn’t earn his place just as no one earns salvation, yet this servant received a reward for his faithfulness.

Today’s devotional writer insists that there are no rewards because salvation is by grace only, and whatever we do cannot merit it. Of course, this is true. No one can earn this great gift, yet what we do with it after we receive it might be where rewards are considered. In fact, the Bible speaks of Christians being judged for their deeds, and of suffering loss by being foolish in that area.

Consider the two words for judgment in the Scriptures. One word speaks of the Great White Throne where those who reject God’s grace will go to eternal wrath. No genuine believer will be in that horrible and final judgment.

The other word is Bema and refers to a judgment where God will judge or evaluate the works done by God’s people. Some of what we have spent our lives doing will be like gold and pass muster. However, some of what we have done will be useless or worthless. (Note, the word is not evil.) For that, God says: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)

This means is that all Christians will be saved, but anything done with wrong motives, laziness, or misplaced priorities that resulted in works with no eternal worth will be lost.
The Bible is clear that the whole salvation process is a gift, it indicates rewards are given for faithfulness in follow Jesus, for living a Spirit-filled life doing His will. This passage about Bema judgment clearly says, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:14)

All believers will enter the kingdom of heaven, whether they come in early or late in life, whether they gave themselves to God’s work or wasted a lot of time and energy on matters that didn’t matter. Each get the same ‘reward’ of eternity with God. (See Matthew 20:1–16) But when it comes to how we lived our lives, there are other ‘rewards’ and they will vary — depending upon the faithful labor expended.

The 1 Corinthians 3 passages says when believer’s works are judged, each will receive a reward according to his or her labor. Matthew 5:12 speaks of great reward in heaven and 2 John 8 speaks of a full reward, both references indicating that the rewards will not all be the same.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 says the master expected more from his servant with five talents than he did from the two-talented or the one-talented individuals. Those talents were dispensed according to their ability to handle them (v. 15) so those with lesser amounts had lesser responsibility.

The view expressed in today’s devotional seems one-sided. When God saves a sinner, that person is a new creation. A sinner cannot merit salvation, but we can live for Christ after salvation. One major thing salvation does for us is give the ability to choose. Before Christ, I could not do anything other than sin. Now, as a new creation, I am able to live for Christ. This is grace, not earned — yet choice is involved. It seems to me that this is where rewards come in.

Jesus, I am fully aware of occasions when I rejected the best thing and settled for what appeared good. I’ve also turned from Your way to follow my own way. While You pick me up and get me back on track, I doubt you will pat me on the back and say “well done” for my lapses in faithfulness. Mercifully, that worthless stuff will be burned up at the Bema and there will be no reward for it. What will survive is up to You. You may see gold in words and actions that I don’t even recall. Two things I know: all of my life will be reviewed and evaluated fairly — and You will graciously wipe away my tears of regret for the stuff that didn’t make the cut.

Friday, April 28, 2017

He seeks the lost

I make quilts and use a ‘design wall’ to pin my work so I can stand back for an overall look. Sometimes the array is too large and I need to be farther away than the wall behind me. For that, I have one of those lenses for doors that you can peep through before opening it. It makes the quilt appear even farther back.

A few months ago, I showed the lens to a few friends who were quilting with me. The next day I could not find it, not in the drawer where it normally goes, nor sitting in any obvious place. I searched the room, even got down on the floor with a flashlight. No door lens. Since then, I’ve cleaned, sorted, etc. but the lens has not been found.

My husband told me to forget about it and bought me another lens. However, there is something in me that will not let go of that lost lens. I’ve had the same reaction to other lost items, like the dinner forks our granddaughter hid about 25 years ago, (we moved several times since, but never found them), or the pail of clothespins that went missing from our yard in California more than 35 years ago. Perhaps this odd response to losing things is a God-thing. It definitely reminds me with the way He feels about those lost in sin . . .

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1–10)

Today’s devotional focuses on the fact that Jesus, holy and without sin, would stoop to receive sinners as a demonstration of His great love. The writer says we could easily eat with other sinners because it is a level playing field; we are sinners ourselves, but this is God Himself!

Upon reflection, this attitude of Christ seems more of a choice, one that Christians can make as well. Paul wrote about Jesus’ great love for us and how we are to have that same love, doing things without conceit and selfish ambition, counting others more significant than ourselves. He goes on to say:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8)

Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. Of course, this goes beyond looking for a lost possession, but I understand that desire. For me, it isn’t about the possession either — I can easily replace those things that have been lost. For me, this is more about the desire to keep things in their right place. A lost lens is dislocated, not where it belongs, out of reach, no longer useful as it was intended. Is that part of why the Lord seeks the lost?

Oh, Lord Jesus, instead of being where You created us to be, we have been dislocated by sin, in darkness, out of fellowship with You, not available to be filled and used by the Holy Spirit for Your purposes. This is the reason You came, stooping to find the lost, searching in the darkness of this world to bring all things back to their right place. Thank You for not giving up, for not replacing me or forgetting me.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If my people . . . (2 Chronicles 7:14)

These days, the Word of God is scorned, public prayer diminished, Christianity pushed out of schools, and faith considered old-fashioned and foolish. However, those behind this thinking are often also dismayed at the increase in violence and crime, a growing lack of respect for human life, and the inability of politicians, law enforcement, or anyone else to do anything about it.

Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ sometimes shake our heads also, wondering why the world seems to be falling apart. However, the Scriptures have the answer. It is found in the history of ancient Israel. Nearly 600 years before Christ, the prophet Ezekiel was given these words:
“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:10–11)
Their world was in similar trouble as ours. They had been told not to abandon their faith in God, but they persisted in going their own way. They faked a form of worship by performing the rituals, but their hearts were far from it and their ‘religion’ mocked God.

Even earlier in their history, the Lord gave them a similar message but with more specific detail about their hypocrisy:
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord; “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:11–20)
The devotional writer says this is the answer to why our world is coming unglued. We cannot persist in avoiding God, resisting truth, putting aside His Word, ignoring His principles, and doing our own thing without experiencing consequences.

He adds that those who eternally perish will be without excuse. It isn’t because their sins are too awful that they cannot be forgiven. It isn’t God’s idea or desire that they perish. It will not be because of any failure on the part of Jesus Christ or a lack of His willingness. He gladly gives eternal life to all who come to Him in faith. He says to all: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

But He also says, ‘I have called, and you have refused’ and ‘You will not come to me that you might have life.’

Sin always brings disaster into my life; a hard lesson learned. But I have also learned that relying on Christ is never a mistake. He does not let me down, but gives me surprising peace, blessing, and even wisdom during perplexities. It is entirely obvious that if my situation begins to deteriorate, I cannot shift the blame on anything or anyone else when I’ve caused that deterioration by trying to do my own thing.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” (Proverbs 3:5–10)
Oh, my Lord Jesus Christ. I know You take care of Your people, but I cannot ignore You, nor can I play at ‘religion’ and be a hypocrite. Instead, Your people must not let the world press us into its mold and assume there will be no consequences. I’m so sad at the junk that fills the daily news. Truly, I need Your grace and wisdom — as do all Your people. Help us be lights in this world. Forgive our backslidings and bring revival to our land.