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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Arriving Without A Gift

“See! I am coming soon!
My reward is with me
 to repay everyone according to his work.”
Revelation 22:12 ISV

Sometimes, when I am sitting outside my house, I will look up and see the most magnificent, brilliant blue sky full of large, fluffy, pure white clouds in all shapes and sizes. These puffs of fluff often remind me of cotton candy. A sky like that always sets my mind to thinking about heaven. I am reminded that Jesus left this world in the clouds and he promised that he would return in the same manner in which he was taken away. As I think about heaven I often wonder what it will be like to meet my Savior. I know for certain this is one party I do not want to miss.
In my lifetime I have been invited to many parties and events that required that I bring a gift to give to the guest or guests of honor. If I were to arrive at the party without a gift, I would be very embarrassed and I would feel very sad that I had nothing to give to honor the individual or individuals who were being honored.
I would likewise be very sad to enter heaven and stand before Jesus empty handed. I am reminded that this life counts! This life is my opportunity to live for Jesus in such a way that I will be rewarded in heaven. The Bible teaches that believers will be awarded crowns for the work they did on earth. These crowns are not for me to enjoy but are to be laid at the feet of Jesus. If I arrive in heaven without having earned any crowns I will have nothing to give to the One who gave his all for me.
It is important to know that salvation is free but rewards must be earned and they must be earned in this life. After we become a Believer, the remainder of time that we spend on this earth is a time of preparation for heaven. The days I live on earth will be used by God to refine my character and change me in ways that will bring glory to him. My days on earth are filled with opportunities for me to earn rewards for the work I do for my Heavenly Father.
The Bible teaches that all of our works will be judged by God. “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NIV
If I find myself working for rewards for my own personal gain or if I have an attitude of pride as a result of my work, that work will burn up in the fire and will not stand. It will only be the selfless works that will withstand the fire when tried by God. These selfless works are pure and will result in eternal reward. However, if my work proves to be selfish and prideful I will suffer loss of reward. As a forgiven child of God I will be safe, but I may experience sadness at the judgment seat of Christ when I realize that my works have been burned up in the fire because I have served God selfishly and in a spirit of pride. In addition, I will be sad because I have nothing to give to my Savior when I enter heaven.
At one time in my life this truth left me feeling very uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like I had anything great to offer in service. Others were more gifted, and far more talented than me. I really didn’t think there was much I was qualified to do.  Much of my small work in the church was done for all of the wrong reasons. I did some work well but then I realized that I couldn’t be trusted with a compliment! Compliments made my head swell with pride. Yuck! Other times I had a poor attitude because I felt like I had to do all the work. At times I carried guilt that I must win large numbers of people to Christ because this was the only acceptable pure work. The fact was I wasn’t a preacher or a missionary. I didn’t even have the gift of evangelism, so what was I to do? The answer was clear. Suffer loss and enter heaven empty handed! I was very sad because I so desperately wanted crowns to lay at the feet of Jesus. I no longer was trying to work my way to heaven but now I was trying to chalk up God’s approval by doing works that hopefully he would approve.
The Bible teaches that there are four separate crowns for which we as believers should make every effort to win. The good news is that these crowns are not out of reach for any Christian that strives to please God. I would like to suggest that most likely, this side of heaven, I will not even realize that something I have done is worthy of receiving a crown. Isn’t that beautiful?
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trails because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 NIV The crown of life is given to Christians who endure their trials in this life. God takes note of our faithfulness to him during difficult times. If we leave this world as faithful overcomers of the difficulties we experience in life we will win the crown of life because we have done the selfless work of faithfulness.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even (you) in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19 KJV When we get to heaven there will be much personal rejoicing over others who are there because of our influence, our testimony, and our invitation to accept Jesus Christ. Some of us are better at this than others. Some have the gift of evangelism and other do not but all of us can choose to exhibit a godly witness that is seen by others as they observe the choices we make and the attitudes we display. When we exhibit peace and joy regardless of our circumstances God is glorified and others are influenced to find and follow Jesus. At the very least if we have children, we have the responsibility to teach them the way to the Father. In this life we may never know the many lives that we have touched but God does. God will not miss a single soul that is in heaven because of our influence and for the work of godly influence the Father will reward us with the crown of rejoicing. Even our silent testimony is of value if a life is changed because of our life.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4 NIV Ministers, Elders and Deacons are most certainly shepherds but that does not leave the rest of us out. Being a care-giver to someone we love, encouraging and praying for our family, training, teaching, and sharing what God has opened our eyes to see, and being an example of faithfulness to God is without a doubt shepherding. In the simplest of terms a shepherd cares for his sheep. Each one of us cannot reach the entire world but God has given each of us a certain number of individuals who fall within our circle of care and influence. These are the sheep that God has given each one of us to care for. For sure it is our immediate family members, then our extended family members. At times that may seem selfish to put those we love first, but in reality what a tragedy it would be to minister to the whole world and loose our own family!
We also have opportunity to serve our co-workers, neighbors, and church friends each week. Most of us frequent the same stores and often have contact with the same individuals. Don’t worry about shepherding the people you don’t know simply reach out in love to the people you do know. Also be on the look out daily for new people that God may send your way. There are also many opportunities to give of our resources so that others can go and serve where we cannot. Our ability to shepherd others does not have to be perfect it only has to be sincere. God knows the work we do for others and he knows if it is self-centered or if it is done for the glory of God. If the latter is true then God will award us the crown of glory. God rewards selfless obedience.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV The crown of righteousness will be given to believers who seek to live pure lives and are longing for the second coming of Jesus Christ. This life does matter. If we are endeavoring to make good choices in life and if we are longing for our Savior’s return we will be given the crown of righteousness.
Our works are not to be burdensome. We should not walk around feeling guilty saying, “I ought to do this or that”. However, we should be intentional about striving to obey God when he entrusts us to even the smallest of tasks. If God puts something or someone on my heart I want to believe that he thinks it is an important assignment. Therefore, I should take seriously his request and carry through for him. Because I am a list maker I often keep a “To Do List for God”. This list serves as a reminder of the things that God is prompting me to do no matter how great or small. When the task is complete I cross it off. This list is different than the other lists I keep. Crossing things off of this list does not signify my accomplishment. It does however signify my obedience. I must admit that there are still many “God Suggestions” on my list that have not been crossed off. It is my goal to cross off each and every God assignment.
In a nut shell, God basically calls us to do four things for which we will receive crowns. I am delighted to realize that none of these works are impossible or out of my reach! We must remember that God wants us to succeed.
-Persevere and remain faithful to God during our trials.
-Invest our life in the lives of non-believers by pointing them to Jesus.
-Shepherd, disciple and care for believers.
-Seek to live a pure life and long for the return of Jesus Christ.
Crowns may or may not be literal, I do not know. But at any rate, what they represent is of utmost importance. Those things are so important to God that he is willing to reward us for our obedience. Our works will either be credited to us or taken from us and burned up in the fire. Much of what we do is certainly important, but God seems to indicate that faithfulness, godly influence, shepherding, striving to live a pure life, and longing for Jesus’ return are the things that will withstand the fire. These things in themselves seem to already stand alone in purity because they are void of selfish motive. Selfishness cannot abide in faithfulness, selfishness is not a part of godly influence, and there is no shepherd that thinks of self ahead of others. Pure living is void of self. Although, longing for Jesus’ return may be selfish. I imagine that if we don’t long for his returning it most likely will be because we love the things of this world too much.
I can’t help but think that we too will somehow benefit from the significance of the crowns that we lay at Jesus’ feet. Though we will surrender to Jesus the crown of life we will still possess eternal life and perhaps have a greater capacity to enjoy heaven. When the crown of rejoicing is laid at Jesus’ feet our own personal rejoicing will be beyond our imagination and it will last throughout eternity. We will most likely have a greater capacity to comprehend and enjoy the glory of God because of the crown of righteousness.  At long last we will truly see what righteousness really looks like in the eyes of the Father and we will be amazed. When I stand before God at the believer’s judgment my clothing will be the filthy rags of my sin, covered over by the blood of the Righteous One. God will not see my sinful rags because he will only see the blood of Jesus that covers all my sin.
Salvation is a free gift but our works will be examined by God to see if they will stand the fire of purification. If God sees that our works are pure they will be stored up for us in heaven for all eternity. Our works are important not in number but rather in purity. God will be looking for our works that involving selfless obedience, our concern and love for those he has given us to care for, and our faithfulness to him.
Are you remaining faithful to Jesus even in the midst of your current trial?
Are you being obedient to God’s assignment for today?
Are you currently shepherding someone?
Do you look forward to Jesus’ return?

Dear God,
Today I pray that I will remember every day that this life counts. God, search my heart and reveal to me where my works are impure because they are tainted with selfishness and pride. God, I do long for crowns that I can lay at the feet of your precious Son, Jesus. He alone is worthy to receive glory, power, honor, and dominion. God, I do not want to arrive in heaven without a gift to lay at the feet of my Savior. Father, I thank you that you have loved me enough to entrust me with your holy assignments. Help me to be obedient to you by serving and reaching out to those you have given me. God, I do long for the return of your son, Jesus Christ.
It is in his name I pray. Amen