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.

 

 

Posted in Christian Living

This Debt I Owe

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I have a confession to make.  Despite knowing that vengeance belongs to God, I love a good movie where the hero systematically eradicates all the villians.  Even in a story like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I’m glad to see him take out his enemies because, even though Eastwood has given them every chance to back off, they just won’t give up.  Eastwood may have ultimately lost a bit more of his soul in shooting it out with the bad guys, but as a movie-goer, I am really glad the bad guys bit the dust.

How different are the realities of a world where people live according to the belief that God has the only right to vengeance.  In our modern age, I’m not sure how many of those communities actually exist, but in the pages of my Bible, I find a history of God’s people asking for guidance in dealing with their enemies and giving full credit to God for any victories that they attain.  When the Israelites are on top of their faithfulness with God, no force in the world can beat them.  Vengeance is God’s.

I’ve been reading the Psalms this week.  In David’s Psalms, he repeatedly acknowledges his own sinful state and how little he deserves God’s help.  But, David also acknowledges how he can do nothing without God, how great God is all the time, how willing David is to accept God’s will, whatever that may be.  For David, whatever happens is the will of God, and God is good all the time–even when what God decides to do makes David hurt.

When you read that attitude coming from a man who lives under the weight of sin, you understand more and more just how much David had a heart like God’s.  What I mean is this: in David’s time, there was no such thing as grace.  In order to renew one’s relationship with God, you had to perpetually offer blood sacrifices to make right what you inevitably had done wrong in the sight of God.  Even as David pours his heart out to God in the Psalms, he knows that the only man on earth that can most closely speak to the Maker is the High Priest one day each year when the Holy of Holies is entered after much sacrifice and even more sacrifices are made in the very presence of God.  During that ceremony, tradition holds that the people would tie a rope to the High Priest in which to drag him back out of the Holy of Holies in case God did not find favor with him.

Because Christ died for our sins once and for all, we Christians in this modern world are living every day, truly, in a state of grace that it can be so easy to take for granted.  David, who was persecuted by Saul, lived a life of war, lost children, and had children rebel against him, could always remember that God is good and worthy of praise. David knew he himself had no right to be proud, even though he was a great king in the eyes of men, because he only ruled by the will of God.  David knew that at any minute he could die in a state of sin that separated him from the God he loved so much.

You and I have been given the gift of starting each day and ending it in relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us at the point that we accept Christ as our Savior.  We owe such a debt to Christ for His sacrifice, and yet He presents it to us as a gift, lovingly given.  We do nothing to earn our salvation except to accept that gift and submit to Christ’s will.

If David, living under the threat of unforgiven sin, could devote so much of himself in praising his God for the love and protection and mercy God gave him, how much more should we who have been given the gift of relationship with our God be daily loving, praising, believing, and submitting to His will?  Even though we cannot earn our salvation, do we not owe so much more of a debt to our God that He was willing to die for us, once and for all?

Make no mistake, Christianity does not equal inaction.  As James puts it, “faith without works is a dead faith.”  Reading the Psalms of David reminds us of the debt we all owe to our loving God, who gave His whole self for us.

Thank You, Jesus, for the indwelling of the Spirit that allows me to know that when I cry out to You, You always hear me.  And so often, You are my one and only source of comfort.  My job is learning to lean into this awesome debt I lovingly owe.

Our God is truly an awesome God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Why Don’t I Learn?

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As I’ve mentioned recently, my Bible reading currently finds me in the cycle of stories of the Old Testament, where God’s people love Him, forget Him, mock Him, and turn back to Him again in waves of joy and grief that often leave me wanting to scream at my Bible as I might yell at the television set–“What do you think you’re doing?  How can you be so stupid that you would worship a man-made idol or other people’s gods when you have a history of covenant with the one and only God?”

But, I usually remind myself how easy it is to armchair quarterback history.  A perspective from thousands of years in the future, after all, can easily see where others stumble, especially since my perspective includes knowledge of the New Covenant, which was completed when Christ came and sacrificed Himself for us.

Before Christ, the closest any individual came to God was through the High Priest, who was allowed to cleanse himself and enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple, the place where God dwelled, only once each year in order to offer sacrifices that would give the people a way to forgiveness from God.  When Christ died on the Cross, that curtain that separated the rest of the people from that Holy of Holies literally split in two!  From that moment on, those who ask Jesus to be their Savior have entrance into the Holy of Holies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which means that we can call on God anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But, since human nature really never changes, how often do we also cycle through loving God, forgetting Him, and even mocking Him before we remember just how special the gift of Grace and Salvation are and return to Him again?

Modern culture likes to concentrate on a kind of non-religion where everyone can feel good about him/herself so long as we give everybody enough room to believe whatever they want, and we don’t get in anybody else’s way.

Even though Christ loves all of us so much that He died so that we all would have the chance to choose everlasting life with Him, He did not negate following God’s commands:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.   (Matthew 23:23)

There is no way to God the Father except through our belief in Christ the Son.  Christ commanded that we love God first, with everything that is in us, and to love others as we want ourselves to be loved.  Between these two commands, He covered every other rule laid out for human behavior in the Holy Word.

Yet, despite the simplicity of God’s plan for our salvation, don’t we manage to make everything so very complicated?  We judge when we should be silent.  We offer disapproval when we should be extending a helping hand.  We let ourselves off the hook when we should be listening to the voice of conscience that tells us we just messed up.  We hold onto our pride when we should submit to God’s ultimate power over us.

Despite the many downs in the history of the Jews, theirs is the ultimate victory in human history because it is through them that God chose to make Himself known to the rest of us.  I feel sorry for those who stubbornly refuse to believe that God is because, in the end, they miss out on the pinnacle-moments of knowing a loving Creator.

Through his many psalms, David, the man after God’s own heart, expresses as well as anyone the joy of knowing, truly knowing, God’s love for us:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:2-4)

Like intersecting circles in a graph, we humans may have different perspectives about the world, but the one thing that should center us is coming back to our true center, which is Christ.

So, even though I want to chastise the people in the stories I read in the Old Testament, I know that I, too, am constantly on a path of winding toward and away from God, even though I have Jesus in my heart.  The main lesson I have to learn is to keep going on my knees and asking God to keep guiding me and bringing me back to center.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Why We Remember

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Memory is a tricky thing.  We all have a tendency to remember events in such a way that makes us look the best.  Sometimes, or in some areas, we remember events so that we can see ourselves in our worst possible light, feeding our own insecurities or personal issues.  The inability of we humans to remember accurately is part of what makes eye witnesses so unreliable.

Having created us, God knows our faults.  He knows that we will have to consciously make the effort to remember our own fallacies in order to maintain our healthy fear of Him, the fear that is the knowledge of His awesomeness and makes us want to worship Him and do what is right.  On their trek through the desert once they escaped Egypt, even though God perpetually saved the Israelites from their own follies, they seem to fail to remember.  They complain, they want to return to Egypt, they doubt God will keep His promises, they worship other gods.

Because God’s memory never fails, He remembers His promises.  As He has Moses prepare the Israelites to finally enter the promised land, He has Moses implore them:

“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children.  Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deut. 6:4-9 NLT)

God intends to keep His promises to make Israel a great nation, but He expects them to remember His instructions.  (At one point late in the 40-year journey through the desert, God is ready to wipe out the entire bunch and begin again until Moses talks Him out of that plan because God is so disgusted by the Israelites perpetual forgetfulness and thanklessness.)  And why was the remembering of God and His promises so vital for the Israelites?  They were about to embark on the final length of their journey, into a promised land that was filled with pagan peoples who might easily tempt the Israelites into forgetting that God was the one and only, thus allowing them to slip into actions detestable to God, like making idols or touching unclean things.

But the most important reason for remembering is this:  For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the LORD our God has given us (Deut. 5:25 NLT)  In the New Testament, Grace makes a difference about our source of righteousness:  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; Paul writes, rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9 NLT)

Faith versus works does not lower the bar of our commitment to remembering God.  In fact, it raises it.  Paul explains:

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . .I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3: 12-14  NLT)

Remembering God means forgetting the wrongs or perceived wrongs done to us by others, putting God’s wants before our own, and even forgetting what good we may have done so as not to rest on our laurels and fail to achieve all that we might through the Holy Spirit working in us.  When we remember how much God has done for us, it makes us love God even more, and it should make us love others, no matter what perceived hurts they cause us.

Remembering God also means pouring out our thankfulness to Him.  God wants to hear our gratitude and our acknowledgement that all we have and all we are, we owe to Him.  Paul implores us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).

Christ instructs us to pray with this attitude of gratefulness:  Our Father, who art in heaven, Christ tells us to begin, hallowed be thy name.  In acknowledging our relationship to God as Father, we are reminded that He who made everything wants to have a relationship with us.  In acknowledging His holiness, we realize how grateful we should be to have a relationship with God, to know His love for us because of grace.

When you are faced with the challenges of life, whether you are having physical problems, mental problems, work problems, family problems, or financial problems, it can be so easy to just whine to God or be mad at Him and ignore Him (as if that somehow hurts God instead of us!).  But when we are in times of peril it is even more important to remember first to be thankful, to acknowledge what God has done for us through the grace of Christ.

Finally, when we remember to be thankful, I think it makes it easier for us to be the love of Christ to those who do not yet believe, to shine His light as Christians are supposed to do.  In his book,  Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, Abbot Christopher Jamison describes Christian patience this way:

“Patience is more subtle: it is the attempt to live out in a positive frame of mind the difficulties that come from trying to obey and love other people”

It is so easy to forget.  But a successfully run race with Christ can only be accomplished when first we remember.

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith

How It’s Easter Every Day

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Tomorrow is the day the secular world takes a moment to at least inadvertently acknowledge the TRUTH that we Christians celebrate every day: HE’S ALIVE.

The history of humankind is this–we were created by a loving God in full grace, we fell from that grace, and we were doomed to stay out of grace because no matter how many sacrifices we made, we humans would always fall into sin.  And sin separates us from God.

But then, God came to earth in the form of man, His Son Jesus, lived that life as a human and without sin, and then allowed Himself to be sacrificed for the sins of all of us, once and for all.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we step into what Paul explains as

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

And that life, fully lived in faith and the Spirit, bears a fruit that is

 love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As we Christians attempt to bear the fruit of the Spirit, waking up every day knowing that Christ rose again and is alive in us is what gives us the impetus to want to do the often hard work of walking the “narrow path that leads to eternal life” (Matthew 7:14).

Of course, we do not earn our salvation through what we do (beyond admitting to Christ that we are sinners and need Him as our savior), but when we truly accept Christ as our Savior, then we are filled with the desire to want to be what Jesus asked us to be–“perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

So, move over bunny rabbits and colored eggs.  And may those who take the time tomorrow to hunt for hidden treasures take more than a moment to realize that the real reason for the holiday is a life-changing decision that is actually the greatest treasure of all:

Christ Lives

Posted in Christian Living, Love

The Challenges of Abundance

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When I was still in junior high school, my sister and I asked our grandmother about what it was like when she finally had things like vacuum cleaners and washing machines to use in her household chores. Had the new gadgets made life easier?

Without batting an eye, my grandmother, who had grown up the daughter of a sharecropper in East Texas during the Depression, lived in one-room houses with packed-dirt floors, and raided pack-rat nests for pecans to sell to the grocer for thread, gave us a quick and emphatic, “NO.”

Instead of reducing her workload, the advent of these electric aids to housework only gave my grandmother more to do!

Today, smartphones are supposed to make our lives easier as well. But, if you are like me, you know that a device that allows you to easily take a phone, email, internet connection, banking interface, social network, endless library, and gaming center wherever you go doesn’t simplify anything at all.

I have finally “smartened up” and put a hiatus on my electric devices after a certain point in the evening (unless I am writing my blog or a novel, of course) in an attempt to reduce the constant strain on my neck. With increased access to everywhere, I am also experiencing increased and unceasing stress!

Our consumer-driven society has given us an addiction to abundance that makes us less likely to slow down, be still, and feel the power of God around us. The challenge of balancing work, family-life, friendships, responsibilities and relaxation may just be the major crisis of our century.

But there is another kind of abundance that brings with it a different set of challenges. I’ll tell you right up front that I like these challenges much better.

The abundance I am talking about is the love of God for us, a love so great that Jesus died for us, accepting the punishment for all our sins when He Himself had done nothing to deserve punishment, so that we might have a chance to accept Him as our Savior and thus achieve salvation.

Christ’s love for us is an abundance that we must be willing to accept with the faith of a small child, and that we should desire to share with others. Christ’s love is a way of being when we interact with it on a daily basis.

How do you meet the challenge of the abundance that comes with a God who loves you so much, He comes to earth in the form of man to be humiliated in the end and crucified for you?

If you really accept this abundance, you will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul describes it to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

This abundance of love is something that we humans can so easily take for granted, which means we aren’t as patient with others as we ought to be, we gossip just a little, we watch more television than we spend time in the Word, prayer, fellowship.

In other words, we are very good at proving over and over just how fortunate we are that Jesus was willing to die for us. None of us are perfect. But God’s love for us should make us want to be.

How do we take advantage of the abundance of God’s love? All we have to do is ask:

“Ask and it will be given to you;” Christ tells us, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

But we can also practice the disciplines of love: studying God’s word, praying, being still to listen for God’s direction, being in fellowship with other believers who can help us be accountable to God’s truth, paying attention to our actions and repenting of our sins to God.

Abundance can be as bad as it is good, but in the case of God’s love for us, the abundance of the gift of salvation is certainly uphill all the way.