Friday, 30 September 2016

EVERLASTING REWARDS

What are the various crowns promised to faithful believers?

                                                                 
What makes us jump out of bed each day to face life’s challenges? What is it that makes us tick? What motivates us in life? It all depends on our worldview and our values.

Some believers focus on the here and now, thinking that blessings such as prosperity and health are indicators of God’s favour. And, provided they do not go overboard, this kind of thinking is not entirely wrong (Proverbs 22:4).

But excessive preoccupation with temporal blessings without an upward focus is unbiblical: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

As a man thinks so is he. Thinking about heavenly rewards, instead of earthly treasures, helps us reorient our goals and aspirations in life. When we live in light of eternity and Christ’s return, we purify ourselves, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

Various crowns are promised to faithful believers who overcome. What are these imperishable heavenly rewards (1 Corinthians 15:58, Revelation 22:12)? 

                                                                       
Crown of victory

Champions in the ancient Olympics are honoured with perishable crowns—wreaths of olive leaves. But believers who are faithful in discharging our God-given calling and triumph over sin will be given imperishable crowns.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-25).

Now, is there a possibility of being disqualified after we have enrolled ourselves in the spiritual race? Yes. To finish well in the spiritual race, believers need endurance. Paul warns that, though he preaches to others, he might be disqualified if he fails to exercise self-control and discipline (1 Corinthians 9:27).

May we run with perseverance, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), so that we might receive the crown of victory.

Crown of righteousness 

While languishing in a musty prison cell, Paul writes with a triumphant note: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

Does this crown come easy? No. Nothing worthwhile in this life (or the next) is attained effortlessly. It is only for those who manage to overcome the world, flesh and devil. As we choose to abide in Christ, and seek God and His strength, we will receive this crown of righteousness at the end of life’s journey (Matthew 7:13-14, John 15:6).

Though we live in the world, we are not of the world. In fact, we are to distinguish ourselves from the world through the process of sanctification.

“Come out from among them. And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Neither are we to be like the world nor allow it to squeeze us into its mould.

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Jesus was once asked, “Will few people be saved?” His reply is this: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

No matter what “feel good” teaching might tell us otherwise to soothe our itching ears, the “passing mark” for entry to heaven is indeed high.

Crown of life

Though we do not look out for them, temptations will inevitably crop up. If it were not so, why would this line, Lead us not into temptation, be a part of the Lord’s prayer?

But temptation is not synonymous with sin. We are not held accountable when we are tempted but only when we fail to overcome it. Moreover, we can take heart in the fact that God gives us the strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

And, if we do not yield to temptation, we will be rewarded. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

This crown of life is also bestowed on those who remain faithful and steadfast under persecution, even to the point of death—not only to those who overcome temptation.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The fact that only overcomers receive the prize is in line with Christ’s teaching on persecution during the end times. “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24: 9-13).

Crown of glory

Leaders often face challenges which can be overwhelming. But those who faithfully tend the flock can take comfort in future reward. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

Paul, who suffered a great deal for the faith, also encouraged believers to press on, pointing out that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

But, no matter how glorious our crowns might be, we will have to lay them down at heaven’s throne for it is God who truly deserves all glory, honour and power (Revelation 4:10-11).

In closing, let us be encouraged by the life of Moses, who turned his back on the world because he knew that the invisible God would eventually reward him for his enduring faith.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

What is our consuming passion and focus in life? Do we merely live for visible and tangible things? Don’t we look forward to receiving these everlasting crowns of unfading glory?

RELATED POSTS

TESTED AND TRIUMPHANT
Why do believers need to be overcomers?

STARTING WELL, ENDING WELL
If we start well in our journey of faith, does it mean we will definitely end well?

THE BEST AWAITS THE FAITHFUL
The best awaits those who choose the unseen and intangible over the seen and tangible

LOSS OF REWARDS VS LOSS OF SALVATION
Some believers may lose their eternal rewards BUT eventually they are saved. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, did the foolish virgins merely lose their rewards or much more?http://bit.ly/1MA1h8F

Friday, 9 September 2016

WATCHFUL AND READY

What will earth be like when Christ returns? Why did Jesus mention Noah and Lot when referring to the end times?

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17: 26-30, 32).



First, it is business as usual. Man is caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of life without any thought that life on earth will come to an end. They will be eating, drinking, marrying, buying and selling, planting and building up till the point when Christ makes His second entrance.

Second, man’s evil continues unabated in these last days. This scenario is similar to the days of Noah, when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God was grieved in His heart and regretted that He had made man (Genesis 6:6). It will be like the days of Lot when men view homosexuality not as a sinful sexual deviation but a mere difference in sexual orientation (Genesis 19:4-5). http://bit.ly/1T504sn

                                                                       
Notice that not many were saved in the days of Noah and Lot. Only eight persons got saved in Noah’s ark and only three escaped the destruction of Sodom. The majority perished because they lived as if God did not exist or willfully lived in sin. Indeed, narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14).


                                                                    
Thirdly, deception abounds. Of the various end times characteristics—deception, persecution and turbulent times—mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 (Olivet Discourse), deception seems to be the most prominent. Even the elect—supposedly mature leaders—can be deceived. If leaders are deceived, don’t you think the flock will fare even worse? In fact, in Matthew 24, Jesus warns believers to be wary of deception not once but four times:
  • Take heed that no one deceives you (vs. 4).
  • For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many (vs. 5).
  • Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many (vs.11).
  • For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (vs. 24).
Next, there will be an illusion of social, political and economic well-being. But just when people say there is peace and security, sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman. For Christ comes suddenly like a thief in the night to judge the earth (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).

The end times will be marked by spiritual decline—the great falling away. Christ warns that many will fall away due to persecution, sinfulness and deception (Matthew 24: 9-13). Paul also writes that Christ will not return unless there is a falling away first and the antichrist is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2: 3). http://bit.ly/1PFkRlh

And when the antichrist comes, he will perform false signs and wonders through satanic power and deceive many—even believers, who think that he must be on God’s side.

“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11).

In these end times, men are clinging not to ancient statues of wood and stone but modern-day idols—whatever money can buy. They are consumed by the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). Man are lovers of self, lovers of money and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). They no longer want to listen to sound teaching but look for teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

At this juncture, we would do well to take heed of this: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Though short, this verse is pregnant with meaning. Before God rained fire and sulphur on the sin city of Sodom, she managed to escape with Lot and their two daughters. Angels had earlier warned them not to look back while fleeing the doomed city.

But Lot’s wife disobeyed. As she looked back to see the flames engulfing the city, she turned into a pillar of salt. Why? Why did she look back? Though her feet carried her away from the comfort and pleasures of Sodom, her heart could not bear to leave the worldly lifestyle she cherished so much. Jesus warns in a parallel verse that if we put our hand on the plough, and then look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).

We too need to guard our affections. Watch our hearts for they influence everything else in our life (Proverbs 4:23).

And what will happen when all is about to end? The rapture will occur just before God sends down judgment on an unbelieving world. Christ will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:31). Believers will be airlifted to safety before judgment descends upon earth.

Before judging the earth, God always rescues the elect—just as He rescued Noah from the global flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom. Believers do not have to face God’s wrath, having obtained salvation through Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).


                                                                                            
Will Christ return to earth as the gentle babe or sacrificial lamb? No. He is coming back as the Lion of Judah to judge the earth. His return as the ultimate Judge reflects His character—for He is the personification of grace and truth, not grace alone (John 1:17). That’s why He repeatedly warns all to be watchful and ready to stand before the King, not distracted by worldly attractions, fleshly cravings, and the cares and concerns of life.
  • Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21: 34-36)
  • "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17)
To reiterate, will believers be judged? Yes, they will be called to account concerning what they have been entrusted with. Let's choose to be faithful servants whom the master has set over his household (Matthew 24: 45-51). Let's be the faithful stewards who utilise and multiply the talents given to us (Matthew 25: 14-30).

We must be watchful like the wise virgins, not complacent like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13). All who eagerly expect Christ’s return will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure (1 John 3:3).  http://bit.ly/1MA1h8F

So we must keep watch! For we don’t know when our Lord is coming (Matthew 24:42). Though we will never know the exact day, we won’t be caught off guard when Christ returns if we are vigilant (1 Thessalonians 5: 4).

Hopefully, as we reflect on Christ’s end time warnings with special reference to Noah, Lot and Lot’s wife, we will be better prepared for His coming.

RELATED POSTS

WATCHFUL IN A WATCHING WORLD
What does it mean to be watchful in light of Christ’s second coming?

HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE?
To live soberly and purposefully during these perilous end times, we need to arm ourselves with wisdom and discernment.

IS THE WAY TO HEAVEN EASY?
Two different views—easy and difficult ways to heaven

BRACING FOR TOUGH TIMES
Will many lose faith in God during these perilous and tumultuous end times? Is this is a fact or a figment of someone’s imagination? Let’s explore the biblical basis for the great falling away.

LOSS OF REWARDS VS LOSS OF SALVATION
Some believers may lose their eternal rewards BUT eventually they are saved. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, did the foolish virgins merely lose their rewards or much more?

AGAINST THE ORDER OF NATURE
Some say that the gender of one’s sex partner is a matter of personal preference—just like some people relish spicy food while others delight in milder, non-spicy food. After all, isn’t He a God of love? Won’t He accept our choice of sexual partner, even if it is the same sex, as long as everything is done in the name of love between consenting adults?

ONCE SAVED, FOREVER SECURE?
Some Christians believe, once they are saved, absolutely nothing can happen to them to alter their destiny. Even though they might live in sin or deny God, they believe that one day they will surely reach their final destination in heaven.

EXTERNAL LINKS

JESUS AS JUDGE
Bible verses on Jesus, the Judge
http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Jesus-Christ,-Judge

PROOF OF GOD'S JUDGMENT ON SIN CITY OF SODOM
Ruins of Sodom found
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2xv3XwOVaQ