Bobby Gilles and Rebecca Elliot of Sojourn Church have written a song that speaks directly into the heart of all that is currently taking place in Ferguson. It will be a part of the upcoming Sojourn record entitled New Again.
It seems so selfish. So mercenary. We should just serve people for the sheer joy of it. Well, good news. It’s not selfish. It’s not wrong to want to gain as many rewards as we can. God says to go for it. He says, “Your time is limited here, don’t waste it going after things that won’t last. Go for as many eternal rewards as you can.
4 reasons to run after rewards
Jesus commands us to seek rewards
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and ruste destroy and where thieves break in and steal,20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven MT 6.19
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens…LK 12.33
Jesus tells us “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Send your treasures ahead. Go after rewards. Get as many as you can. Make it a focus. Don’t put all your energies into gaining this world’s wealth. Put your energy into gaining eternal wealth.
God rewards every single good deed we do as believers, no matter how small.
And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” MT 10.42
knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. EPH 6.8
We have hundreds of opportunities every day to send treasure ahead. Any small act of serving – giving a little one a cup of water. Serving your children. Making a meal for a new mom. Doing your job.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. CO 3.23-24.
Every act of service, every prayer, every gift to the poor, every dish washed, every task at work – every single thing we do for the Lord will be rewarded.
God stores our rewards in his heavenly vault where they are safe and secure.
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. MT 6.20
Our rewards in heaven are safe and secure. Not subject to market fluctuations or national economies. So go for it! Send them ahead.
God is waiting for the perfect time to reward us
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. GA 6.9
You may not be rewarded immediately. You may not see your hard work pay off right away. But you will eventually. You will certainly. Often in this life – we see our diligence and sacrifice pay off in the lives of our children. We see our church benefit. But even if we don’t receive our rewards in this life, in due season we WILL reap.
SO: Be zealous for good works!
who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14
Be zealous for good works. Remind yourself that you will be rewarded. Ask Jesus to give you opportunities to serve him. Ask for opportunities to share the gospel. Be zealous to serve your family when you get home from work. Be zealous to give your money to the poor. Be zealous to serve in your church. Serve wherever you can. Set up chairs for the Sunday meeting. Welcome new people. Look around on Sunday morning – is there someone by themselves, someone with no one to talk to? Are there positions in Children’s Ministry where help is needed?
There are tons of opportunities to earn rewards we’ll enjoy forever. Go for them today.
“Can Christians root for athletes who do bad things?” On a recent Happy Rant podcast we discussed this question. Can a Christian feel good about rooting for guys like Jameis Winston, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and others? The question arose because the number of prominent star athletes getting themselves in legal hot water seems to have skyrocketed. In years past we might have been able to ignore an indiscretion or two, but now they confront us at every turn.
The question rises from more than just the prominence and frequency of athlete missteps. It stems from our acute awareness of them and insatiable appetite for information about them. Once upon a time tabloids were smutty news that scratched a guilty itch. Now we get tabloid news piped to our phone screens every minute. We don’t have to browse; we get notified. This pervasive awareness of celebrities, athlete or otherwise, completely changes the nature of our perceptions and interactions. We believe we “know” them intimately as people, so instead of just watching how they perform we judge them the way we would acquaintances or co-workers.
More than any other kind of entertainer, this applies to athletes which causes a unique conundrum. Sports are entertainment, plain and simple, just like movies, music, and books. Unlike those other forms of entertainment, though, athletes play themselves instead of playing a part or a role. Actors play other people, parts we quote and remember. Authors create characters and fade into the background. Musicians are like athletes in that they perform as themselves, but their sounds can be carried in one’s pocket, listened to in the car, and enjoyed without every seeing them. We can close our eyes and lose ourselves in the music and forget the musician playing it. Athletes don’t play a part or create a story for us to get lost in; they perform as themselves and nothing else. Their own names adorn their jerseys. When they take the field we simply see them. We may “know” other types of entertainers, but the delineation between performance and person separates us from their morals. That line for athletes is nearly rubbed out, so we must question our fandom.
But how must we question it? In every form of entertainment except sports we appreciate the performance or art form for its own merits. We hear the notes of heaven in a beautiful song. We marvel at the creativity of a story and relish the sublimity of an acting performance. Each one is evidence of God’s creativity imprinted on mankind. We are able to do these things often in spite of the performers moral failures. And we ought to be able to do the same in sports, to separate the on-field performance from the off-field activities. Some fans find this hard to do in good conscience; that’s understandable because it feels like ignoring something immoral. But it ought to be the goal.
When we learn to see the athlete and his or her performance as two separate things we gain two significant benefits. First, rather than trying to ignore a moral dilemma we can actually confront it better. Too often in deciding how to respond to an athlete’s off-field behavior their on-field exploits come into play. That’s nonsense; they are people, employees, and citizens and must be responded to as such. And we can only do this if we are able to recognize their humanity apart from their performance. The second benefit, though, is that we are able to enjoy sports more deeply. Instead of besmirching the exquisiteness of the games with off-field issues we can see it purely in the performances and competition. The game itself between those lines and for those halves or innings or sets or holes is unsoiled by what happens elsewhere. We root for the performance, not for the person. And when we make this distinction we are able to both root for athletes and abhor deplorable behavior without compromising beauty or justice.
I gotta admit: I don’t always take Sundays seriously. Often times, attending church feels like another thing to put on the calendar, right along with doctor visits, school plays, running errands, and visiting the library. I have full weeks, and church is one more thing added to my full week. And so I go to church, do church-ish things, like sing and listen to a sermon, then go home and move on to the next thing. Oil changed? Check. Church? Check. Pay bills? Check.
But I was recently reminded that the gathering of believers on Sundays is a very sacred thing indeed. I would encourage you to slowly read the following quote by N.T. Wright:
In particular, the gospels (especially John) and the early practice of the church (as in Paul) reflect the very early understanding of the church that the first day of the week, the day of Easter, has become a sign within the present world and its temporal sequence that the life of the age to come has already broken in. Sunday, kept as a commemoration of Easter ever since that event itself (a quite remarkable phenomenon when you come to think about it), is not simply a legacy of Victorian values but a perpetual sign, joyfully renewed week by week, that all time belongs to God and stands under the renewing lordship of Jesus Christ.
Of course, worship should be “seven whole days, not one in seven.” Many Christians will find, for all kinds of reasons, that Sunday is a difficult day to attend long church services. But we should remind ourselves that the earliest Christians lived in a world where Sunday was the first day of the working week, much like our Monday, and that they valued its symbolism so highly that they were prepared to get up extra early both to celebrate Easter once again and to anticipate the final Eighth Day of Creation, the start of the new week, the day when God will renew all things.
Surprised by Hope (pp. 261-262).
In other words, every time we come together, we are experiencing the reality that the future kingdom of God has broken into our present, broken world, and we are anticipating the time when Jesus will return to make all things new.
When rednecks, white collars, blue collars, nerds, housewives, homeschoolers, and public schoolers gather together to worship Jesus, that is a small taste of the glorious friendship and fellowship we’ll experience in the new heaven and new earth.
When a black man, white man, Jewish woman, and a Korean teen all share the Lord’s Supper together, it’s a foretaste of the day when we will all tuck into the Feast of Lamb – a feast that will make Food Network’s thanksgiving dinner look like prison food.
Something very, very holy takes place when men and women gather together to worship in Jesus name. Every gathered church is like an outpost of the new kingdom, a bright beacon shining in the midst of a sinful world. Jesus himself dwells in our midst, and we experience a deep fellowship with Jesus and with others that is only possible because Jesus has risen from the dead. The kingdom of God has broken into the present, and we get to taste it every Sunday morning.
All of this raises the crucial question: Do we take the Sunday morning gathering seriously?
How can you know if you take it seriously? Here are a few simple diagnostic questions to ask yourself:
- Do I get sufficient sleep on Saturday night so that I can energetically worship, attentively listen, and joyfully serve on Sunday morning? (guilty as charged)
- Do I wake up early enough on Sunday morning so that my morning is not frantic, stressful, and distracting?
- Do I arrive at church early enough to drop of my children at class and be in the sanctuary before the service starts?
- Do I turn off my phone during the service so that I am not tempted to text, Tweet, Facebook browse, or play fantasy football? (guilty as charged)
- Do I stick around after the service long enough to actually engage with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?
These questions are not intended to be a legalistic checklist which must be followed to the letter. Rather, the questions are simply intended to get us thinking about where our priorities lie.
I gotta admit: I don’t always take Sundays seriously. But I want that to change. Sundays are sacred.
A handful of links that interested, amused or informed me from around the interwebs:
- If Thomas Kinkade had an evil twin he’d paint these amazing dystopian landscapes. And he would be way cooler too.
- Here is a list of large cities that are allowed to complain about cold winters. Having lived in two of these for most of my life I find it especially humorous that my current home, Nashville, is NOT on the list yet still whines like a neglected puppy about perceived chilly temps.
- Everyone loves a good infographic, right? Well here’s one that will improve your health! What does the color of your pee mean for you?
- While this dog may not exactly be a whiz at obedience school, it’s not a stretch to say he’s way smarter than those other dogs and will go far in life!
- Really, Texas? Just because you don’t want to be part of the U.S. of A. doesn’t mean you should neglect your young people’s civics education so grossly. This is shameful (and funny).
I love seeing the creativity of God sprinkled through all creations. That why I love seeing these digitally altered photos. According to Laughing Squid: “Sachs Media in partnership with Phojoe, a photo manipulation company, have visually imagined what rock stars of yesteryear would look like today if they were still alive today.”
Everyone who reads intersects with books at just the right time that speak just the right words in just the right ways to leave an indelible imprint. Sometimes they shape, sometimes they direct, sometimes they lift up, sometimes they inspire, and sometimes they just fill you up. These eleven books, in no particular order, have been such for me.
1) Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey
I stumbled in to this book at a time when I wasn’t sure what was next or how to get there. Harvey’s combination of practical wisdom and pastoral counsel was just what I needed. He helped me feel free to pursue great things without the burden of pseudo-humble guilt I had born, that lie that pursuing excellence was a pathway to pride. It was encouraging and freeing.
2) The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor
I could have listed any of several books by Taylor, but this one stands out for the impact it had in helping me learn how to process questions, doubts, and uncertainty. So much of traditional American evangelicalism has little room for these things, but Taylor artfully upholds a high view of God while honestly encouraging exploration and questions.
3) Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
I don’t necessarily think this is the best of Keller’s books (though I’d be loathe to choose which is), but it’s the one that pierced most deeply when I read it. In his reasonable, methodical way Keller puts his fingers on the idols of the heart and presses. It hurts. But it identifies areas that need addressing so clearly.
4) When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
“Paradigm forming” is not a phrase to be used lightly (or almost ever), but this book deserves it. Fikkert and Corbett entirely dismantle the standard American mindsets toward poor people and charity. In its place they offer a paradigm of need and wealth which shapes missions efforts, outreach efforts, personal relationships, and even one’s relationship with God.
5) Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Love him or hate him, Donald Miller offered a book that broke the thinking mold for many young Christians in the early 2000s. I was one of them, and it was a good thing for me. Miller’s book reframed how a Christian can talk about faith, ask questions, and encounter God. It was a nudge toward a direction of faith I needed.
6) Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy is sort of like a much smarter and more grown up Blue Like Jazz, at least in its effect on me. Chesterton’s writing and exploration of truth are brilliant. He manages to be both incredibly worshipful and properly irreverent at the same time. It game me something to aspire to.
7) Whiter Than Snow by Paul Tripp
Nobody likes to look into their own heart and deal with their sin, but this little book by Tripp is a marvelous and devastating resource for doing so. It helped me at a time I had fallen and didn’t know if God wanted me to get up. Tripp’s reflections on Psalm 51 were just the words I needed to read.
8) Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis
I’ve read almost all of C.S. Lewis works, and this one stands out to me for its sheer sweetness. He was brilliant, had a devastating wit, wrote millions of words, and his sweet letters to children with questions are among the best he ever wrote. The fact that Lewis stayed connected to the realities of real, normal children is what made his brilliance so brilliant instead of being esoteric and useless to the masses.
9) A Praying Life by Paul Miller
I’ve known how to pray since I could talk, but this book taught me what it means to really pray. It is such a normal, practical book but so rich and deep too. It helped me actually love to pray instead of just knowing how.
10) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I never read this in high school, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve always loved a great story, but Lee’s classic showed me in a brand new way the power of story. I was moved by it. I wanted to be half the man Atticus Finch was. This goes down as my favorite novel.
11) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Potter books were my reintroduction as a grown up to the wonder of children’s stories. They were everything a children’s story should be – noble, beautiful, fun, funny, gripping. They reminded me that many (most?) of the best stories are not written for grown ups but for those readers who are unimpressed by anything less than the best.
Have you been Jingle Bell Rocked yet? If you haven’t, don’t worry. Unless you go through Wal-Mart wearing ear plugs (not a bad idea, actually), it’s coming. Inflatable Santas, racks of Christmas trees, elves that chuckle warmly, and a constant stream of Christmas songs all await you at your nearest shopping center. Though we’re more than a month away from Christmas, the industrial-Christmas complex is already in full swing.
At some point, if you happen to tune in or remove the ear plugs, you’ll hear lyrics like this: “glory to the newborn king.” “Born the king of angels.” “Let earth receive her king.” Even secular songs give a nod to the idea of Jesus-in-the-manger as a royal baby. That’s completely consistent with Scripture, of course. When Gabriel told Mary she would have a baby, he gave this promise about the baby’s future: “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
But here’s a question: when exactly did God give Jesus the throne of David? When does the baby become the king? How did Jesus claim his crown?
In all the rest of Luke’s gospel there are only two places where Jesus is called a king. The first is the triumphal entry in Luke 19:38. The crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with these words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then, just a few days later, Pontius Pilate stands before him to ask, “Are you the King of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus responds (Luke 23:3) – and offers no other explanation or defense. Despite the fact that Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus whatsoever, he sentences him to die by crucifixion. Then: “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’” (Luke 23:36-38). The only time in his life the baby “born the King of angels” is called a King is at his crucifixion, by a group of hardened, brutal Roman soldiers who spit out the words as a taunt. And yet they spoke truer than they knew.
The underlying theological fact is that the dying of Christ is a kingly act, not merely in the sense that he dies royally and with dignity, but in the sense that his dying is his supreme achievement for his people: the act by which he conquers their foes, secures their liberty and establishes his kingdom…It is precisely as the crucified criminal that Jesus is the Christ, the King; and the cross…is the scene of his victory. (Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified)
Call that last sentence to mind the next time you hear a Christmas carol proclaim Christ as king. He is our King – but he claimed his crown by hanging on a cross.
Photo by Levente Fulop
Each Friday I will share a quote I appreciate. It might be long or short. It might be funny or thought provoking.
Your world is tiny, yes. But God gets tinier. not one dust mite falls through the carpet fibers and into the pad apart from from your Father. He’s big enough that small doesn’t matter. Dust-mite drama doesn’t use up His attention, taking it away from something deemed by mentally incontinent college professors to be more worthy of His attention. When one is infinite, one can enjoy two black holes arm-wrestling over a galactic snack, and an uncoordinated junior high quarterback struggling to escape an overweight junior high defensive end. Infinite goes all the way up and all the way down; and at every level, with equal attention, He creates with the full dose of his personality.
- N.D. Wilson, Death By Living: Life Is Meant To Be Spent, page 5
Do you ever feel like the world is cracking and beginning to crumble? ISIS, Ebola, changing sexual morals, disintegrating families, escalating crime, drugs, suicides….I don’t need to elaborate. The world is shaking. It’s passing away. But believers in Jesus need not fear or be depressed, for God has given us an unshakeable kingdom.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12.28-29 NIV)
Live for the unshakeable kingdom
This world and everything in it is going to pass away. But we are receiving a kingdom that is permanent. It will last forever. It can’t be destroyed, let alone shaken. This means that everything we do for that kingdom will last. All we invest in that kingdom is secure. It won’t devalue; no one can steal it; it’s there and it will be there when we get to heaven. Every act of kindness we do in the name of Jesus, every glass of water we give a thirsty person, every dollar we give to the church or the poor, every meal we make for a family in need, every time we babysit for a friend – Safe. Permanent. Every prayer we offer, every song we sing, every time we praise Jesus, every act of obedience – stored away in the unshakeable kingdom. In light of the unshakeable kingdom, why would we live for this world? Why would we give ourselves to sin and selfishness? Why would we spend all our time pursuing things that are fading, aging, crumbling and passing away?
The author of Hebrews says that since we are receiving a permanent kingdom “let us be thankful.” How can we not be thankful that Jesus rescued us from lives of futility and gave us eternal life in his kingdom? How can we not be thankful for an unimaginable glorious future? Let’s make thankfulness one of the main habits in our lives. Yes, we should thank God for all our material blessings, but let us thank him for the incredible blessings of the kingdom – the righteousness of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, God’s love in Christ, God’s protection from evil, his strength to conquer sin…innumerable spiritual blessings.
Ask God for grace
The phrase “let us be thankful” is often translated from the Greek “let us have grace.” Hebrews 4 tells us that in our weakness when we face temptations we should boldly approach the throne of grace for “grace to help in time of need.” Jesus is waiting to give us his mighty power to overcome temptation.
Have a healthy fear
Since we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom, we should “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” This isn’t just talking about our “corporate worship” when we gather with the church to sing and celebrate, but our lives. We are to offer God holy lives. We should live “with reverence and awe” or with a healthy fear of the Lord. We don’t want to take God’s holiness and majesty for granted. We don’t want to presume that we can sin and God won’t discipline us. We don’t want to give in to sin. Remember “God is a consuming fire.” The author of Hebrews is referring to DT 4:23-24:
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
God warned Israel, that though they were his chosen people and he would bring them into the promised land, they must be careful not to fall into idolatry, because he would punish them. God doesn’t take sin lightly. Nadab and Abihu didn’t fear God, and offered different incense than God had commanded:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (LV 10:1-2)
This doesn’t say that Nadab and Abihu went to hell. It says that fire came out from the Lord and consumed them. They ruined their lives in this world by their disobedience. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira, who it would appear were believers, lied to Peter about money and God struck them down. The result was that “great fear came upon the whole church” (v11). Obviously, God doesn’t always consume us when we sin. He is patient, long-suffering and merciful. But we shouldn’t presume on that mercy. A healthy fear of the Lord will help us live holy lives that are pleasing worship to God.
We who have believed in Jesus are receiving an unshakeable kingdom. Let us be practice being thankful, let us seek his grace to overcome sin, and let us cultivate a healthy fear of God. That’s a recipe for joy!