Degrees of Reward and Punishment

Within the last week the topic of varying levels of eternal reward and eternal punishment has come up a few times in our different Bible study groups, so I want to take the time to address the issue this way.

Let me start by reminding us that God is perfect, holy, just and sovereign. We need to be reminded of this when we want to question His methods. Suffice to say, we do not exactly know how God goes about accomplishing this perfect justice, but we believe He does. It will be meticulous, thorough, and perfect.

Let me begin by addressing those who are not a follower of Christ. Without exclusively embracing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for you and your sins, you will forever be separated from the presence of God (2 Thess. 1:8-9).

To those who are a follower of Christ, let me say this; you are doing yourself a great disservice if you believe that merely getting your foot in the door of Heaven is enough. Let me say it this way; whatever you do with the short number of years you live on earth will determine for you what happens in eternity. When we do well in life, we honor our Savior. It should not be all about getting into Heaven, but it is about glorifying and serving God and growing in relationship with Him.

So, now back to the issue of degrees of reward and punishment. Again, we do not know exactly how God goes about accomplishing this, but Scripture makes it clear that people are judged in personal ways by God. To coin a phrase of Pastor Erwin Lutzer, “People are judged on the basis of what they did with what they knew.”  This does not mean that doing good saves us, but that our actions in life make a difference in our eternal home. “People are judged on the basis of what they did with what they knew.”

Allow me to provide you with some Scripture to consider:

  • Romans 2:12-16; the Gentiles who do not have the law as the Jews do, will be judged without the law, and based upon their conscience.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10; each Christian will give an account for what he/she has done, good or evil. Our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, but He will assess faithfulness or a lack thereof (see also Romans 14:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
  • Luke 12:47-48; speaks of varying levels of punishment in Hell (see also Revelation 20:12-13, and Luke 10 also addresses levels of punishment).
  • Matthew 16:27; speaks of varying levels of Heavenly reward based upon one’s deeds.
  • Matthew 25:14-29; the parable of the talents illustrates how rewards are given based upon what each of us do with what we are given.
  • Luke 14:12-14; God will reward (“repay”) us after we are resurrected for good deeds we have done here.
  • Luke 6:22-23, 35; there is reward for suffering for Christ.
 

Pastor Mike Fast

“between Sundays”

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This is Good

         The atmosphere at church feels good. Perhaps King David described it best; “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

         I hope you have written out your 50 good things about this church, and are now making the opportunities to share one of those good things with someone each week.  I had the opportunity to share a few this past week, and it felt great.

         We have so many reasons to feel blessed. I have friends in ministry in Spain, and they have only within the past few weeks been able to start meeting in person. We are blessed each week that we have been able to meet in person.

         We are blessed with a warmth that encourages each other, and makes a new person feel more like a true guest than just a visitor.

         We are blessed with a church family that desires to spend time in the Word of God, learning and growing. Our midweek and evening studies are so well attended.

         We are blessed with an atmosphere of true worship as we celebrate Jesus and His being in the midst of us as we gather. It makes every gathering that much more special.

         We are blessed with a long history in a community that needs to hear and see the gospel of Christ.

         We have so much to be grateful for.  Thank you, and as Paul says, may we all keep up the good work. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Pastor Mike

“between Sundays”


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Is the End Near?

Imagine yourself sitting in your pew on a typical Sunday morning, as a homeless looking man walks down the aisle with a large, rugged cross on squeaky wheels foretelling the coming of Christ. What would you be thinking?
 
Well, this happened one Sunday morning early in my ministry, and I will tell you what I was thinking. As a pastor, I wondered who this man was, and why didn’t the deacons stop him at the door?
 
If this happened today in your church, how would you respond to him and his message? Do you think your deacons would stop him at the door?
 
In the last year many of our perspectives about “the end” have changed. I know mine has. I sense the coming of Christ is very near, and I know many Christians are awaiting Christ’s return.
 
My wife shared an article with me that caused her to think about this. The author asked several penetrating questions that really need to be pondered by each of us:
  • Are we focusing more on the antichrist than the return of the King? (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
  • Are we more concerned with the mark of the Beast than being marked by Christ’s love and presence? (Isaiah 41:10)
These questions are really asking if we are immersing ourselves in fear rather than hope. You see, if we focus on the spiritual conflict around us instead of the hope of Christ’s return that is assured us in God’s Word, then we are immersing ourselves in fear. (Psalms 34:4)
 
Yes, the end is near, but the end of what? As a Christian it is the end of life in this broken world, the end of the enemy’s reign, and the end of the effects of sin. As a Christian the end brings the beginning of life in the presence of Almighty God! It is the beginning of life without pandemics, hopelessness, and struggle. It is the beginning of life in perfect unity with God, experiencing perfect love, hope and joy in a new Heavenly home for eternity.
 
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
 
– From a recent article by Pastor Steve May,
serving with Village Missions in Meadview, Arizona

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Weed Control Fabric

I am in the middle of a lavender planting project at home, where I have dug and prepared six rows of 26 holes each (156 holes). I am now doing some raking and will soon lay out 500 feet of weed control fabric.
 
The fabric is a simple material that will benefit my planting in a variety of ways. It is good for keeping things where they should be, even preventing some erosion issues. It also retains moisture in the soil, and helps the soil warm faster. And, of course, it is good for preventing weed seed sprouting on the surface, and reduces the growth of weeds under the fabric.
 
Today I was thinking of the parallels I could draw between it and the benefits of the word of God and a life that walks with God. Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands around with sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
 
The individual who walks with God, and lives by the word of God, is one who—in a spiritual sense— avoids problems with sliding erosion, and maintains a healthier and consistent soil within, and averts giving into the temptations of the weeds of sin. This is the person who will grow well in their faith, with a right understanding of who they are and who God is. This is the person who is better equipped to continue to live for God.
 
May we delight to walk with God and benefit from His care as our gardener.
 
Isaiah 58:11, “The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”
 
Pastor Mike
“between Sundays”

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God still has the same plan

In Isaiah 46:9-10, God declared, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
 
Do you believe in a God like that? I hope so.
 
One year ago today, some of you lost your homes in the Almeda fire. Twenty years ago this week, nearly 3,000 died in the terrorist attacks. We will never understand the full picture and meaning of all God has allowed, but we can definitely understand that there are some things we can take away from our experiences, and apply them to our daily life. As James one affirms we will go through trials and they will evaluate our faith and mature us, so Second Corinthians 1:3-7 states that we will be able to comfort others better as we experience the comfort of God; “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”
 
Recently we have witnessed the pain brought about from Covid, and other fires, and hurricanes, and even political decisions. But the question for us is this; What kind of people are we to be? Second Peter three reminds us of the patience of God as He waits for more people to be saved, but the end is coming. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”
 
I challenge you this week to make every effort to speak, act, and think as one who is more concerned with the welfare of others than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4), meaning you do not fear death, but instead you spend your days sharing and demonstrating the love, compassion, and comfort of God toward others. May our sovereign God observe us living godly lives.
 
Pastor Mike
“between Sundays”

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The Fun Easy Topics of Prophecy and World Problems

Fires, political upheaval, extreme conditions, Covid virus concerns… Do you feel like God may be trying to get the attention of the nation or world today? Sure.
 
It’s not hard to arrive at that conclusion. But what if I were to instead ask, do you feel like God is trying to get your attention today?
 
This morning, at my computer, I was amazed at the lack of sites that offered the approach of making things from Scripture personal. In fact, some Christian sites even argued against making the Bible too personal. So, my thoughts this week stem from the notion of asking “Why, or Why not?”
 
Let’s start with some observations:
• It is easy to talk about the problems of our nation and the world.
• It is stimulating to talk about prophecy, and what is going to happen to the world.
• It is gratifying to talk about doctrines and sins that others need to repent of.
• It is comforting to talk about things that are not intended to make us personally feel uncomfortable.
There seems to be a common theme, so let’s ask this; Does God call us to the comforting task of critiquing others?
• Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2). That sounds like it’s stressing a personal perspective.
 
Consequently, perhaps we could ask it differently; Is the idea of pointing fingers stronger in the Bible than the idea of making things applicable to you/me personally?
• But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:33). It still sounds like more emphasis on personal reflection and application than it does on assessing others (although there is a place for that in spiritual leadership –see Matt. 7:16; 1 Tim. 3:1-7).
 
How about a few other passages:
• Galatians 6:5 says we are each responsible for our own conduct.
• Matthew 16:27 tells us that Jesus Christ will reward each person according to what they have done.
 
Thus, let me ask four questions that should accompany the first four observations:
• What are you personally aware of that are problems in your own life?
• What are you personally changing about your life if Jesus were to return tonight?
• What are you personally doing to see that people are saved from their sins?
• What are you personally willing to attend to in your life that needs transformed?
 
Pastor Mike
“between Sundays”

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Homosexuality and Biblical Interpretation

Homosexual and gender identity issues are all around us. It is not even just out in the culture, but in my own circle of friends and relatives. 

As was true today, I have often been asked what I believe about homosexual issues and rights, and what I believe about what the Bible says, and what I believe about how one should communicate biblical truth. 

Let me start with the latter; I speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and I measure the depth of engagement upon the depth of the relationship I have with that person. The amount I am able to engage with a person I do not know well, as compared to the in-depth conversation I can have with those closer to me is based on relationship.

And as for the other two questions, for me they go hand in hand: What I believe the Bible says is what I believe about homosexual issues and rights. 

In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis by the homosexual groups to contrive connections between what the Bible says and what they desire to be true. There has been a greater push toward a “Christian gay” movement. As one writer observed, “Homosexual activists and their allies know that the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic found in the Bible is the last bastion of defense holding back the widespread embrace of homosexuality throughout the culture. They understand that if Bible-believing Christians and Jews can be convinced that homosexual behavior is no longer sinful in God’s eyes, then the battle to fully implement their political and social goals will be won” [Focus on the Family].

In addition, gay strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, in their landmark homosexual public relations manual published in 1989, boldly encouraged gays “to muddy the moral waters, that is, to undercut the rationalizations that ‘justify’ religious bigotry.” They go on to specify that this entails “raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings.” They further call homosexuals to “undermine the moral authority of churches… by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology.”

This campaign of misinformation is often known as “revisionist gay theology,” and it’s presently playing out in numerous denominations.  In actuality, it sounds much like Satan’s question to Eve in Genesis 3, “Did God really say that?

I recently read an article by an author for Human Rights Campaign, who worked very hard to try to make the Bible agree with their homosexual position. The author first proposed that, “what was being condemned in the Bible is very different than the committed same-sex partnerships we know and see today.” So, in other words, they want to first propose that the commands of the Bible do not apply to them.

Secondly, this author suggested that, “Jews and Christians in the 1st century had little to no awareness of a category like sexual orientation,” and then proceeded to suggest that, in “Genesis 1 and 2, it is worth noting that these stories say God began by creating human beings of male and female sex (defined as the complex result of combinations between chromosomes, gonads, genes, and genitals) but there is nothing that indicates in Scripture that God only created this binary.” In other words, there are supposedly other categories God created than just male and female, and that transgender and homosexual were around before the Fall of Mankind.

Beyond an absolute destruction of Genesis 1 and 2, this author also proceeded to misinterpret other texts of Scripture as well: “Psalm 139:13-14’s reference to ‘being wonderfully made’ in the ‘womb,’ implies that we are all created with love and intention and that every part of us was divinely formed with dignity –both our bodies and our inner knowledge of self.”

Now the author has opened up another can of worms, that of “orientation” (and gender identity, which I don’t have the time to presently address).  “Orientation” is the diplomatic way of describing one’s feelings. “If I feel this way, it therefore must be okay.”

I had a 17-year-old boy and his mother visit with me one day, to discuss why it was alright that this young man was homosexual. Their family were regular attenders at church, but they did not agree with our stand on biblical truth. They informed me, that since Bob (not real name) had the feelings and desires he did toward other boys, that therefore his actions and decisions were acceptable.  I responded by asking them, “If a person felt the desire to steal, would that therefore make it acceptable?”  They quickly realized they were standing on shaky ground.  “If a person felt the desire to be a wife-beater, or a pedophile, would that make it okay?”

The Bible is clear that all of us have an inclination to sin, and all of us have different areas in our life where the temptations to sin are greater than someone else’s impulses in that area. Furthermore, all of us are masters at trying to justify and rationalize our sins and weaknesses.

So, where does all of this bring me back to?  It comes back to the fact that speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) requires a balance of love and a commitment to truth.  To love is to be concerned about a person’s eternal future, and is not a broad tolerance that overlooks and enables sin. Part of loving someone is making them aware of what God’s truths are regarding our sins, and that He wants to save us from them. 1 Tim. 2:3-4, “God our Savior, wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

 

Bible Passages about Homosexuality (I will just list 3 from OT and 3 from NT):

  • Genesis 19:1-11… The account of the homosexual perversion of Sodom, which led to its destruction.
  • Leviticus 18:22; “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”
  • Leviticus 20:13… similar statement, and accompanied punishment.
  • Romans 1:18-32… This passage describes how sinful mankind claimed to be the wiser, and they proceeded to follow their sexual desires and perversions and homosexuality, proving they did not care what God wanted.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (a great passage); “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  God wants to restore us.
  • 1 Timothy 1:8-10; “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”
Pastor Mike

“between Sundays”


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Three People, Three Perspectives, One Provider

Psalm 68:10, “O God, out of Your goodness You have provided for Your needy people.”
 
I crossed paths with three people this week who were all of a low-income level, and yet all had a place to sleep and a car to drive. Furthermore, all three persons were Christians, followers of Christ, but their perspectives on God’s provision were all quite different.
 
Person A. This individual spoke often of what they should have, but did not have, and yet the things this person did have, they overlooked and disregarded. There was no recognition of God’s provisions.
 
Person B. This individual believed they needed more, and made unwise decisions to acquire more, and yet God still patiently and graciously constantly provided for their needs. This person did recognize God, but primarily as the One to whom anxious petitions were made.
 
Person C. This individual had many needs—financial and physical—and they acknowledged that God met their needs. They verbally praised God for His provisions.
 
What difference did it make in their lives? Person A is often upset at the lack of things they don’t have that they want, Person B is often anxious about God providing again, and Person C maintains a joy and peace that God gets the glory for.
 
Two questions come to mind: 1) Which Person would you like to be? and, 2) Which Person would others describe you as?
 
Philippians 4:19, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
 
Pastor Mike
“between Sundays”

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A Prayer for us

My thoughts this week center around the spiritual health and direction of our church fellowship, and with that is a prayer found at the conclusion of our men’s study from Relational Christianity. I would ask that we would all pray this prayer, and make our hearts receptive and prepared to worship and draw close to God.
 
Father, draw us to Yourself. We have looked for answers in our methods and for power in our programs when what we need is You. Forgive us. You are the Spring of Living Water and we thirst for You. Grant that we might drink from the Source and not downstream where the water is muddied by words. Remind us that You are real. Reveal to us that You are here, with us. Father God, we are Your prodigal children and we long to come home. Receive us by Your great grace and tender mercy. Rekindle in us the fire of Your life. May our lives be the wick upon which the flame of Your love burns and thus bring the light of Your love into the darkness of our world.
 
Lord Jesus, move upon Your church by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Touch your Body and make it healthy, alive with Your presence. Express Your love to Your Bride and wash her with the water of Your Word that she might be beautiful in Your sight, without spot or blemish. Come and revive Your church, Lord. We love You, Father God.
 
In the Name of your Son, Jesus, Amen.
 
-Pastor Mike “between Sundays”

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