"Responsibilities and Rewards"

A few years ago a credit card company advertised its card by saying, "membership has its privileges." They offered incentives, rewards if you will, to entice people to use their credit card. And by and large we are a society that likes rewards, so this strategy probably worked pretty well. When we go shopping for clothes, a car, you name it we want to know we have been rewarded with a good deal, a discount, frequent buyer points, and the like.

I remember about seven or eight years ago I was all excited because I had earned enough frequent flyer mileage to fly the whole family to Disney World for a week. I had also earned enough hotel points so that we could stay free for the week. And, I was excited. But when I stopped to think about it, I began to realize how many trips I had to take to earn all those perks, how many nights away from home were needed, and I began to wonder if membership really does have its privileges. Now being a member of the body of Christ, the church, has its privileges too, life giving rewards. But if Jesus were advertising what it means to be a member of the church, he wouldn't say, "Membership has its privileges," he would say, "Membership has its responsibilities."

You see in Christ's Church reward follows responsibilities. In other words blessings, meaning God's graciousness and love, come after we fulfill our responsibilities. Jesus wants us to focus on our responsibilities, not for the sake of getting something, but out of love for God and wanting to be obedient to God. Our intent must be love, not simply looking to be rewarded or blessed for our efforts.

In our reading from Deuteronomy today Moses lifts up one of the most important responsibilities we have as children of God, and that's our need to be obedient to God. Over and over again we read stories in the Bible of times when God's people are obedient and as a result are blessed in some way. And we also read of times when after being rewarded for their obedience these same folks turn away from God. This seems to be a constant cycle, not only throughout the Bible but also throughout the course of our own history as a people and I dare say in our own personal lives as well.

Can you think of a time when you were obedient to God, received a blessing, and then turned right around and sinned, or by not being obedient? I can.

I remember one day not too long ago I saw someone who needed help loading something into their car at the Home Depot, so I helped them and felt blessed by the smile and thank you I received from the person I helped. You see blessing in God's Kingdom can be something as simple as a smile because it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of peace, and contentment. I felt good because I was able to help someone, and then I went off to go into the store.

As I made my way across the parking lot, somebody came barreling through the parking lot with their car and cut me off, so I yell, "You idiot!" and hoped no one heard me after I realized what I had done. Now this wasn't but a time span of thirty seconds. So I go from feeling blessed to feeling miserable about wanting to take someone's head off. I go from a sense of feeling good to be aggravated, agitated, and frustrated. So instead of going into the store blessed I go through the store grumpy just daring someone to say something smart to me. Can any of you relate to a situation like this?

As you read the Bible you can see in the Old Testament several images of deliverance and salvation being offered. The Hebrew's were saved from the deadly pestilence that struck down all of the Egypt's firstborn, because faithful Hebrews obediently smeared lambs' blood on their doorposts, death passed over their homes.

Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery and toward the Promised Land as God had commanded, and they were blessed with safe passage through the Red Sea. The point is, when we are obedient to God, when we fulfill our Christian responsibilities we are blessed, perhaps not in the ways of the secular world, like good deals, free stuff, and so on, but we are blessed with things only God can offer like, peace, joy, contentment, and yes sometimes material things in the hope we will use our blessings to bless others.

Lets consider the baptism of Talia and Emma for a moment. Baptism is a sacrament of God's grace and a covenant that God has initiated, a covenant that requires us to be obedient and faithful. During the service of baptism, we all reaffirmed our faith in Jesus Christ. Talia's and Emma's parents, and Godparents agreed to raise them in the Christian faith. And all of us here today, the body of Christ and this local church agreed to help nurture Talia, Emma, and one another in the Christian faith, to the extent we are able.

Fulfilling our end of the covenant, whether it's baptism or reaffirmation of faith, is difficult, if not impossible, if there is no involvement in a Christian faith community. So God has blessed us with a faith community (the church) that allows us to be obedient to our part of the covenant.

And, if we are obedient to our promise to fulfill our part of the covenant, blessing will follow. We all will grow stronger in our faith, we will grow more into the image of God, and we will grow in grace. Emma and Talia will be raised with Christ at the center of their lives, and will one day come forward to confess their own faith. And we all will enjoy the blessing of life eternal.

These are wonderful rewards or blessings. These are the kinds of blessings money can't buy, these are the kinds of blessings that can't be earned, these are the kind of blessings that will change the world, these are the kinds of blessings that will lead us to a blessed eternal destiny.

Blessing will come if we give attention to the Word, if we are willing to obey the Word of God. And notice I emphasized the word "if." The blessing comes after we are obedient to the Word. All too often we work hard to achieve the reward, but God says instead of seeking blessing, seek the Word of God and be obedient to the Word of God, and the blessing will come.

And the neat thing is if we remain aware, when the blessings come they will begin to overtake us, and before you know it the blessing will be ahead of us and everywhere we go. Before too long we will be bumping into blessings all over the place. So focus on God, be obedient to God and the blessings will take care of themselves. So how do we be obedient to God? And you may want to jot these down. " We obey God with our heart, by loving him more than any other relationship, activity, achievement, or possession. " We obey God with our will, by committing ourselves completely to him. " We obey God with our mind, by seeking to know him and his Word, so his principles and values form the foundation of all we think and do. " We obey God with our body, by recognizing that our strengths, talents, and sexuality are given to us by God to be used for pleasure and fulfillment according to his rules, not ours. " We obey God with our possessions, by deciding that all of the resources we have ultimately come from God, and that we are to be managers of them not owners. " We obey God with our future, by deciding to make service to God and humanity the main purpose of our life's work.

Now is this easy to do? No it's not, and God recognizes this truth. But God measures our faithfulness not necessarily on the results of our actions per se, but on the intention of our hearts. Lets face it we're human so we will make mistakes, we'll fall to sin, and there will be times when we'll be overcome by temptation. God understands this, but he still wants us to be faithful and try. God isn't interested in us giving up, God expects us to make an honest effort to live according to his Word, and if we do we will be blessed.

Now the only way to make faith stick, the only way to live according to God's Word is to make our faith life-oriented, not information oriented. And the key to living a God-obedient life and teaching our children and grandchildren to do the same is to make God part of our everyday experiences. So teach your children and grandchildren to see God in all aspects of life, not just those that are church related.

You see God in Jesus Christ is the author of life, and indeed is life itself. Therefore, our faith is not something to simply be added to life, it is life itself. And if you faithfully commit to living according to the will of God you will be blessed. Yes, membership in Christ's Church does have its responsibilities, but by God's grace the blessings and rewards for living such a life are out of this world!


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