Posted in Faith

For Such A Time As This: Lessons From The Queen

esther

Hadassah, an orphan, loves her cousin Mordecai, who has raised her. He has never steered her wrong, so when Cousin Mordecai tells Hadassah to present herself as a candidate for the next queen to King Xerxes, Hadassah goes along with it. She even goes along with it when Cousin Mordecai tells her not to let anyone know she is a Jew.

So, as Esther, Hadassah presents herself at the palace, knowing that at worst she will spend the rest of her life as a slave in the king’s harem and at best, she will be named queen.

She may not relish being named the queen. The woman she will be replacing was put aside when she refused to present herself before the king and his nobles and military officials, even though they had all been partying for seven days, drinking freely because the king had put no limit to the amount of liquor he was offering to those attending.

One can only imagine that queen’s position. Vashti has been hosting 180-days’ worth of pomp and circumstance. In the last seven days, while the king is eating and drinking to excess, she has been hosting her own banquet for the women.

King Xerxes expects Vashti to come when he snaps and to look as beautiful as possible when she shows up. Vashti is one of the original trophy wives. So, when she doesn’t jump at the chance to parade in front of a very large banquet full of very, very drunk men, King Xerxes summons a band of “wise men” to determine the action he should take.

In order to ensure that no other women get any ideas of independence from Vashti’s actions, the men decide that the queen should be banished. Xerxes takes this action with a rapidity that is matched only by the leisure he takes in deciding he misses having a beautiful woman around. That’s when the advisors determine to find the king a new queen.

Esther enters the palace for twelve months’ worth of beauty treatments in preparation of her presentation to the king. It sounds like pampering, but the pressure is on. She has to be pleasing to the eunuchs in charge of her, to the slaves attending her, all in practice for being brought before the king. If she is not chosen, Esther will still spend the rest of her life in the palace, but as a mere slave. Either way, the one place Esther will never live again is among her own people.

Perhaps, she was surprised to be the woman King Xerxes chose. Imagine her awe as a royal crown was placed upon her head, a banquet thrown in her honor. And still she stayed silent about her heritage because Cousin Mordecai told her to. When Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill Xerxes, Queen Esther is able to save the king, proudly giving her cousin the credit.

So, when Mordecai urges Esther to go before the king to plead the Jewish cause, perhaps Esther wonders if he has lost his marbles. After all, she hasn’t told Xerxes she’s a Jew. The king hasn’t even felt the need to see her for a month. Maybe his desire for her has waned. He has a full harem of women, after all. And, if she walks in uninvited without the king acknowledging her, she can be hung!

Cousin Mordecai’s response to Esther’s hesitance is a classic source of comfort for all who face tough decisions. “What if you were made queen,” Mordecai asks, “for such a time as this?”

Esther is no dummy. She knows the risk she is about to take, and she knows the honor God commands. She asks Mordecai and all her people to fast and pray for her for three days before she undertakes this dangerous mission.  She and her servants do the same.

Esther enters the king’s presence, and he is pleased by her. She knows how much the king enjoys a good feast and throws a banquet for the king and her cousin’s greatest enemy, Haman. When the king is indeed pleased and asks what Esther would like in return, she doesn’t press her luck, but merely asks for the king to come again the next day for another banquet. Only if she pleases the king, she assures him, will she even make a request.

Who can resist a beautiful woman who is also humble? Not King Xerxes, who hurries to fulfill Esther’s request the next day to save her people, allowing them to take vengeance on their enemies. She underscores the humility of her request by assuring Xerxes that she would not even bother him with the fate of the Jews if they had been destined to become slaves. That fate would not have been important enough for King Xerxes’ consideration, Esther reasons.

In the end, it seems Esther was indeed made queen for such a time as this. Thinking about Esther’s fate somehow makes facing our own challenges just a little bit easier. Perhaps rough times now are giving us the skills we need for even more difficult times in the future. Maybe a challenging life change at this moment will turn out to be a tenfold blessing further along in our lives. Maybe we are persecuted for what we believe in in order to inspire others to faith.

Besides teaching us to look for God’s lessons in the events of our lives, Esther teaches us the importance of humility in our relationship with God. If we approach each day knowing the gratitude we should feel for not getting what we deserve (which is death), but instead getting the free gift of grace, imagine how powerful God will make our days.

With God, no one who enters into His throne room need fear rejection. He extends His golden scepter to all comers.

And that is the greatest lesson of all.

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Posted in Faith

Can’t Top This Belief

Joseph with his brothers in Egypt
Joseph with his brothers in Egypt

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NASB)

Trust me, I understand how hard it can be to believe that something good can come out of a bad situation, but time and again in the Word of God, we see examples of the Lord giving truth to this promise.

Perhaps one of the most amazing stories of God working bad things to the good happens in the life of Joseph, whose drama reads more like a soap opera than the real life that it is. Despite all the terrible things that happen in his life, Joseph always does the best he can do according to the abilities God has given him, acknowledges God’s superiority in all things, and is thankful above all else.

You recall Joseph’s challenges and triumphs:

  • Joseph, a favorite of his father Jacob because he is the son of Rachael, is betrayed by older brothers, who argue over killing him or just throwing him down an empty well.
  • Having determined to spare his life, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery with a band of travelers, ensuring that the young man will never see his father again.
  • Once Joseph arrives in Egypt, he becomes a slave to the captain of the guard. Joseph could wallow in the misery of being all alone in a foreign land and no longer free, but instead he works to the best ability God has given him and rises to be second in the house.
  • Before Joseph can settle into too fine a life, he is faced with another betrayal. His master’s wife, trying and failing to seduce Joseph, falsely accuses him of attacking her and gets Joseph sent to prison.
  • In prison, stuck inside a dank, dark cell, Joseph could give up, but instead, he becomes the best at what God has given him the ability to do at the prison. Once again, he is given much responsibility.
  • While Joseph is in prison, the Pharaoh’s baker and cup bearer are thrown into jail with him. Each has a dream. Joseph agrees to tell them what God says the dream means if they will only remember him to the Pharaoh. When the men try to give Joseph the credit for his interpretations, he is quick to correct them. Not I, he tells them, but only God can interpret dreams.
  • Surely, Joseph held on to a hope that he would be remembered to Pharaoh, especially as the first month passed, and the second month, and the third. But, the cup bearer, upon returning to his duty to Pharaoh, quickly forgets all about Joseph–for two whole years.
  • While Joseph continues to do his best in the situation he is in, even in a place where he is wrongly imprisoned, Pharaoh has a dream no one is able to interpret. The cup bearer finally remembers his promise and brings Joseph to Pharaoh. Once again, Joseph is able to interpret the dream because he gives full credit for the act to God.
  • Because of his interpretation, now Pharaoh entrusts Joseph with much indeed. Through the years of abundance and then severe drought, Joseph becomes second in all of Egypt only to Pharaoh himself. Under God’s guidance, Joseph keeps Egypt and the surrounding areas from starving to death.
  • Finally, when Joseph’s brothers come to get grain in Egypt because that is the only place where grain is available, Joseph exhibits his love of God once more. Instead of refusing his brothers food and shelter as would certainly be his right considering the way his brothers had treated him, Joseph offers them forgiveness and even goes so far as to ensure their future welfare in Egypt.

As Joseph proceeds with this ultimate act of forgiveness, he explains his attitude about the ultimate sovereignty of God in his life:

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:4-8 NASB–emphasis added)

Not only does Joseph believe that God’s ultimate plan will be accomplished no matter how many twists, turns and dips our lives take, he also believes that all good things that have happened in his life come from God.

The next time you find yourself in the valley of the shadow, remember to reflect on a life spent like Joseph, who not only lived every day according to the principle that the God who wants good for us is the One Whose will triumphs, but who was also always thankful to God for the gifts He offers, including His grace.

Posted in Faith

Diving In

sunny-summer-lake-river-medium

In the climax of the old time radio show, the villain whined to Dick Powell that his hair had been pulled too hard. Powell responded, “The way things are looking, the state is going to have to shave your head.”

It dawned on me as I listened to the radio that many listeners, especially younger ones, might not get what Powell was actually saying, that the bad man would likely be convicted for his crimes and sentenced to die by the electric chair, which would require the state to shave the man’s head to carry out his sentence.

In the song, “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” one of the admonitions the singer makes against a P.T.A. board member is that she seems to use a lot of ice whenever her husband is away. You would have to know there was  a time when people had ice delivered to their homes to understand that this statement implies that the ice man goes to the woman’s house very frequently whenever the woman’s husband is out of town.

If we can lose the ability to understand phrases and metaphors in just a generation or two, I thought, is it any wonder that large chunks of the Bible often seem just outside our grasp? Why would combining two kinds of material in one piece of clothing be a bad thing, for example? Why should Elisha get so irritated with some smart-mouthed youths for teasing him about his bald head that he would sick bears to maul them in revenge?

Even more so than in life, the Bible is layers of meaning. The core messages are irrefutable, black and white musts that even the most contentious believers can agree upon: salvation is a gift we receive when we repent of our sinful nature, accept our need for Jesus’ interference on our behalf to put us back into relationship with God ( a relationship broken by our sin), and make a public declaration of our renewed relationship through baptism.

When we reach out to the farther layers of the Bible’s meanings, our ability to come to a consensus is less clear. Does this “blurred” layer mean the Bible is not the word of God or not to be trusted? Of course not! Theologians have many wonderful, thoughtful answers to the Bible’s sometimes ambiguity, especially for us modern world readers. I have two, much more simple, reasons to believe you can trust the Bible as the Word of God.

One of the first people on record to question God is Job, the ancient man whom God allowed Satan to torture by stripping him of all the earthly wealth, health and family he had accrued. Job never berates God, even though he knows he hasn’t done anything to deserve so much devastation. He does, however, have some tough questions for God about what the way the world works. God’s answer underscores how silly it is that we humans, with a very finite perspective on the world and all that is in it, are always trying to proceed as if the answers to all the universe’s questions are actually within our grasp:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?  “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?  Job 38:4-13

We believe in the Bible’s veracity because the God who knows so much more than we can ever imagine knows why there are sections of the Bible that make us go, “huh?”.  In the end, do the places where you don’t quite get it really make or break your relationship with Him? My guess is no. And, when you finally get the answers to those questions in the realm of the angels, will the questions even matter anymore, anyway?

If you have trouble leaning into the truth of God’s Word, perhaps you need to take a clue from some of our modern “disciples.” Singer Nicole Nordemann asks in one of her records, “What if your wrong? What if there’s more? What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?” She encourages the non-believer to close his/her eyes, jump and wait to fall into the arms of Jesus. Steven Curtis Chapman likens his belief to diving into the river of faith, sink or swim.

This approach to a relationship with God, in which the believer spreads wide the arms and releases into the unknown is just the picture of faith that Christ offers us:

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)

Have you ever met a cynical child? The child’s brain hasn’t been wounded by failed expectation, hasn’t suffered the agonies of mistaken conclusions, hasn’t learned to distrust. Rather than closing off their inner selves from the outside world because they have been hurt, children have the wide open hearts that accept love and give it unconditionally. By embracing the truth of God’s promises with the same kind of openness as we had when we were children who had not been wounded by a fallen world, we practice the kind of faith that was credited to Abraham as righteousness.

Only a faith that is willing to dive in to a relationship with God will survive the bumps and bruises of this life and reach toward the unknowable with a feeling of peace.

 

Posted in Faith

5 Facts About Faith That Will Impress Your Friends

Clouds

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Believing in the promises of God and living that belief is at the core of every Christian life. Here are five facets of faith to consider as you proceed with your Christian walk.

1. Faith is free to anyone willing to claim it.

Nothing worth having is usually free, but the greatest gift in the universe is on offer 24/7. All we have to do is ask for the gift of grace from God, acknowledging that we are a sinner in need of the salvation offered because of the sacrifice made for us on the Cross.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

2. Faith makes us right with God.

Paul tells us that we all are sinners (Romans 3:23). No one is exempt from the need to be made right with God. When we are made right with Him, we come back into the relationship with Him which had been broken by our sin.

The Bible tells us that in a time before man had the luxury of believing in a Savior, Abraham’s faith in God was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). In other words, because Abraham believed, he was saved.

Until we embrace faith in Christ, we are cut off from God. But, when we accept Christ as our Savior, the curtain that separates us from a perfect God is torn away.

3. Faith expresses itself through love.

Faith is a two-way street of love. Not only is it the direct result of God’s love for us, but it also encourages us to show that same love to others.

If you have ever tried to do a good deed for a complete stranger, then you know that acts of kindness take a certain amount of courage. Your offer of help might be rejected. You might get called names. Only if you can feel love for someone you don’t really know, all because God loves you despite all your flaws, can you take the leap of faith required to do good things for strangers.

Find Faith

4. True faith can claim good works.

If you have faith in Christ, then you should be able to claim good works in His name. These works may be as simple as being kind to someone who is treating you badly or making food for a neighbor who is ill.

James tells us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). In other words, if you call yourself a believer but you do not let that belief affect your actions, then just what, exactly, do you really believe?

True faith is life-changing because when you accept how truly awesome it is that the God of the universe cared enough about you to die for you, then you are moved to want to pay that beautiful gift forward.

5. Faith pleases God.

There’s a reason beyond the understanding of a humble human that God created us in His image. There’s a reason that He is ever so patient with a stubborn creation that repeatedly turns away from Him even though He is forever saving us from our own folly.

One thing we can understand, however, is that our faith in Him pleases God. The Psalmists tell us:

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation. (Psalm 147:11 & 149:4)

The wise man of Proverbs assures us that “. . . those who deal faithfully are His delight” (12:22b).

Of all the wonders of faith, perhaps this is the most amazing thing of all–that we humans are capable of bringing joy to the God who tells the waves, this far.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

Posted in Christian Living

Four Lessons From My Cat

TC_hopes

Lesson One: If You Want Something, Ask For It

If you have never had a cat, then you might find the concept of being in the house with your pet for an entire day without ever interacting with him a bit jarring.  But, in the feline world, such days are business as usual.

However, whenever my cat is ready to need me, he has no problem making his needs known.  He might meow loudly and arch his back at you.  He also loves to plant his front legs squarely and heavily on the middle of your sleeping chest.  If you are bald like my husband, he may even use the method of licking your forehead with his sandpaper tongue.

The bottom line is, the cat lets you know he means business.  And the business he is always about, or at least mostly about, is being fed.  In addition to his three squares, he also likes fish flakes, treats, and even carrots!  Getting food and water for my indoor cat is the only essential need he cannot achieve for himself.

Lesson Two: Be Careful What You Ask For

Mastering the manipulative art of begging for his supper has an unwanted side effect for my isolationist feline.  He often has to suffer my unwanted attentions.

Sometimes, despite his desire to be out of my arms, my cat’s body responds seemingly against his own will.  A deep, melodious purr emits from his belly, a calming balm to me that seems at odds with the semi-wild look in his eye as he gauges when best to wiggle out of my grip.

Like so many of us, he seems at times like this, almost double-minded.  He wants to be near me, but not so near that my person comes in contact with his catness.  He has yet to master the actually comfortable position of being loved and free at one and the same time.  Instead, he mistakes my affection for a cage he is all too eager to escape, even if he purrs while doing the escaping!

Lesson Three: Be Still

No one sleeps more peacefully than a cat.  We humans toss and turn.  Even dogs chase rabbits in their dreams.  But cats know how to curl in a ball or stretch upside down and breathe in perfect peace for hours on end.

It is not uncommon to leave the house and come back several hours later to find my cat in the same sleepy position in which I left him.  Just watching his fur slowly rise and fall can make me feel less stressed.

The rain may pour outside, the electricity may flash on and off in the house, and the television may blare away the hours, but my cat sleeps through all of it in perfect harmony with himself and the world around him, all he knows of reality.

Lesson Four: Go With The Flow

When I brought home a second cat many years ago, my tomcat’s first response was to run into the bedroom and hide under the bed!  As I hauled him out by his back legs and carried him through the house to show him the new member of the family had been isolated for the time being, he even had the temerity to hiss at me.

After I told him he was being silly, he didn’t take long to figure out he still had reign over his domain.  Within a few hours, he was sniffing at the door where the new cat was staying.  In just a few days, he was so determined to meet the newest member of our family that we decided to take our chances, forget the two week isolation rule for new pets, and opened the bedroom door.

My tomcat didn’t take long to adjust to his new reality.  He happily shared his food bowl and water dish, took turns at the bathroom faucet, and even slept within inches of his new buddy.

Despite the seeming closeness of my two pets, when I had to put the second cat to sleep, my tomcat also took this in stride.  I never noticed that he even looked for his former housemate.  If anything, I might go so far as to say that he is happier being the only cat in the house.

No matter if his household changes or he has to spend a few days at the vet’s, this cat manages to go with the flow.  Because he knows that he has very limited control over what happens to him, he takes his situation at face value.  He adjusts moment to moment.  What else, after all, can he do?

 

I often think that if I were more like my cat, I would be a better servant of my God.  God encourages me to ask for anything I desire that would please Him, assuring me that He will answer my request.  He tells me that He will take care of my every need for the basics of this life.  He makes Himself known to me best when I am still enough to listen for Him.  And my relationship with Him is strongest when I face the challenges of this life in full knowledge of His promise to always have my back.

Most importantly, my God loves me enough to let me go, to give me the free will to choose Him.  In the end, my devotion to my God is all the stronger because I long to know Him, not because He has made me follow.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a virtual slave to my cat, but I love him all the more because, in his own way, he draws me closer to the Creator who gives us the freedom to choose Him as our Saviour.

May the peace of the cat, and of our awesome God, be with you today and always.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Enough Foolishness Already

Heart picmonkey

(I hope you enjoy this “reading” of the first half of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verses quoted are from the New Living Translation.)

If the only record of our culture for the future to see were limited to what they show on television, what kind of people would we appear to be?  Almost every show has “lowered the morality bar.”  Sex is casual.  Language is vulgar. Reality TV makes us all appear to be gossips who don’t mind talking behind other people’s backs, but also embrace a “live and let live” philosophy that is diametrically opposed to a life that leans on God.  As my grandparents would have said, “It’s all just a bunch of foolishness.”

Paul wrote about the same kind of foolishness in his letter to the church in Rome:

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. . . . They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too (Romans 1:28, 32).

Just because we exist in a culture that wants to say everything is OK because that culture doesn’t have any solid base on which to stand does not mean that we as Christians should back down from the truths of living a life in the Spirit. Paul makes it clear that we are meant to follow the law of God’s Spirit, especially because we have that Spirit to guide us as part of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for us:

“For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight” (Romans 2:13).  “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20). “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith” (Romans 3:27).  “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law” (Romans 3:31). “Now [that you have accepted Christ as your Savior] you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (Romans 6:22b). “Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit” (Romans 7:6b).

As sinners, if we received from God what we actually deserve for our behavior, we would have no hope.  Instead, as Paul writes, “Can’t you see that His kindness [in giving us the opportunity to accept the grace of Christ] is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4b)  The discipline to choose the Spirit over the flesh every day of our lives is tantamount to a life, not of foolishness, but of faith:

“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?” (Romans 6:16a) “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit” (Romans 8: 5). “And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:29b).

What kind of world would it be if we Christians determined to really live the law of the Spirit and not just read about it? Would we have such a high divorce rate? Would we have so many single parents or abandoned children? Would our headlines be filled with information people could really use, or with political agendas that try to convince us that what is true is actually contrary to what is found in the word of God?

Maybe the world isn’t any better or worse than it has ever been. Maybe in a world where we exist in information overload, we just know too much about everything, including what was once kept secret–except no life is secret from the eyes of an omnipresent God:

And this is the message I proclaim–that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life” (Romans 2:16).

We can live a life that needs no secrets if we will only embrace the promise of our living God.  My goal is to live the Word and not just read it. And to stop my foolishness!

 

 

Posted in Christian Living

One “Greedy” Reason to Bear Fruit

We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.
We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.

In a final day so secret that no being save ONE knows its exact date, a great scroll will unfurl, and all souls gathered will join in a celebration like no other, for their journey as mutual heirs to the most mighty kingdom of all will be complete.  On that day, what every soul yearns for, to be re-united with its eternal Creator, will wonderfully come to pass.  From those who committed a lifetime of fruitful living, like Paul, to the criminal who died on the cross beside Christ believing only moments before he died, every person who confessed the deity of the Son of God and accepted the gift of Grace will realize their kinship as heirs to the kingdom of heaven on that day.

This Grace provides us with an inheritance like no other.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

So that in ages to come He (God) might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (2:7-10).

In the final lesson of “Amazing Place,” pastor Rick Atchley’s series on what heaven will be like, he makes a distinction between our inheritance as heirs to the kingdom of God, which is equal to all Christians, and the kind of judgment (actually a rewards system) that will be taking place in heaven.  Of course, we believers who have accepted Christ want to fulfill the promise of good works God put us on this earth to complete for Him, but Atchley’s comparison of inheritance versus judgment in heaven also gives us a very “human” incentive to do our best while we are here on earth.

First, let’s make it clear that those who have asked for the redemption bought for us with the very blood of Christ, are no longer under the yoke of judgment that cloaks a fallen world:

“He who believes in Him is not judged,” John writes; “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3: 18).  Jesus tells us, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).  Paul assures us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

True, the book of Revelations is full of examples of the kind of ultimate defeat that will happen when God once and for all finishes the destruction of evil that was begun when Jesus died and rose again.  However, the judgment that takes place for Christians at this time will be more like a reward system tallying how well we did at bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  My Ryrie Study Bible explains in the footnote to the famous verse of John 3:16 that the “eternal life” promised is “a new quality of life, not an everlasting ‘this-life.'”

Part of that new quality of life is casting off the sinful nature and becoming a “new creation,” as Paul puts it.  Christ admonishes us to “store up treasures in heaven” where nothing can rust or corrode what we have collected.  We all inherit equal amounts of Grace, but we do not all tally equal amounts of heavenly treasure.

As one of my life group members pointed out, this way of looking at inheritance versus judgment/reward puts a different spin on some of the more perplexing parables in the Bible.  When you read about the workers of the vineyard who come to work only in the last hour and yet get paid the same amount as the workers who have put in a full day, doesn’t the human nature in you think, how exactly is that fair?  Well, if you consider the wages of the story the inheritance of salvation, the parable makes a different kind of sense.  Surely, when it comes time to hand out the rewards for the work of that day, those who bore the most fruit will receive more of a reward than those who came in the final hour.  In the same way, some who worked unfruitfully for the entire day may actually receive fewer rewards than some who made the most of the less time in the vineyard they had to sow seeds.

So, if we really will see a reward system in heaven according to how well we have used God’s gifts to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth, doesn’t it give us something to look forward to about the Day of Judgment?  Instead of picturing myself cringing at every stupid and willful thing I have done in this life being shown to me on some huge type of movie-screen while everyone watches, I can look forward to seeing, hopefully, that I have managed to do some good things for God!

As a perfectionist who is pathetically seeking “A’s” in a reality that has been outside the classroom for almost two decades, the concept of getting a “well done” from the only Judge who really matters frankly gives me goose bumps.  I used to imagine Christ’s second coming as a moment of awe and love so wonderful, followed by a period of having to be shown all my mistakes during life so I can “start clean” in heaven.  There probably isn’t any theological reason for me to have been imagining the second coming that way.  It’s just the impression I had of the way things might go, even with the grace of God that is my salvation through Christ.

Now, instead of dreading Judgment Day, I actually have something to look forward to.  I also have even more reasons to strive to use my God-given talents to love, love, love while I am on this planet.

As heirs in Christ, we may get in by the skin of our belief, but let’s not spend eternity wishing we had done just a little bit more for Him while we were still here on earth.  Let’s build up as much treasure in heaven as we possibly can by doing as God commanded:  loving Him first and foremost and loving all others as we ourselves wish to be loved (Matthew 22: 36-40).

The Last Will and Testament of our LORD Jesus Christ is the most generous will of all time.  And, if you want to become one of His heirs, all you have to do is ask Him.