At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called “The Greatest Reward.”
Everyone wants to be successful in life, and for most of us, success may mean personal achievement, ambition, or perhaps financial wealth. Although there’s nothing wrong with those things in general, isn’t there an even greater picture of success? It’s meaningful to succeed in our short life here, but God promises us much more in our eternal life to come. What does it look like to work towards the greatest reward?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Video of the Message John Burke shared:
Here are notes from the message John Burke shared:
I believe what I’m talking about today is one of the most important, yet misunderstood aspects of Christian faith. Truly what I’m talking about today should revolutionize how you live—because it has implications for eternity. But before we dive into that, let me tell you a tale of 2 Kingdoms.
The Kingdom of Communism and the Kingdom of the Free World
Communism was a global Kingdom that dominated Russia, and spread out for 70 years to 46 countries. Their aim was global domination, and Atheism was taught in the schools, kids were molded early into communist doctrine of equality—but how would equality be achieved? By trusting the Supreme Soviet rulers to control and distribute everything equally, only it turned out much more equal for those in power. And brutal for those who resisted—Stalin murdered millions, the KGB would spy on all citizens. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, It was a Kingdom of fear, lies, distrust, but it was powerful.
I tell you this because Kathy and lived moved to Leningrad Russian in 1991, in the year of One Kingdom collapsing and a New Kingdom coming. The Kingdom of Communism, whose currency was the Soviet Ruble, whose Power and Prestige were in the high-ranking Soviet government positions—was starting to collapse, but fighting to survive. When we got there, One dollar could get .5 Rubles, but it wasn’t truly worth that in Free World terms. A year later, when we left, the Ruble was nearly worthless—$750 Fisher snow skis sold for $40, Russians had to bring wheelbarrows of Rubles to buy food (we organized food distributions for 1000s of starving people) because all they had worked for was becoming worthless. By 1993, One dollar could buy 1200 Rubles—the Ruble was worthless.
As the Old Economy of communism collapsing, the New Free World coming, we watched our Russian friends stuggle with what to do. You still had to buy food and pay rent with Soviet Rubles, you had to live in the Old Economy, but those who saw the signs of this New Economy realized the smartest thing to do is to keep only as few Rubles as needed to securely live, but exchange the rest into Dollars or a Free World currency that will last. Those who piled all they could into the Free World currency, came out on top. Those who held onto the dying currency and power structure of the Old Kingdom lost everything.
Have you ever considered it’s a parable of a greater reality?
This world, it’s currency, it’s power, it’s prestigious positions, all its glory—will collapse. It’s all going away. You may not even believe in God or Jesus yet, but you’re smart enough to realize—one day you’ll die, and You won’t pull a U-haul behind your Hearse—it all stays when you go. All this world counts as success—more money, more stuff, more power, prestige, honor, fame, glory—a short 70 yr. stint and we’re gone, forgotten, and it’s all worthless? Depressing? Yes. But not if what Jesus said is true.
Jesus’ New Kingdom
Jesus taught there is a New Kingdom coming—the Kingdom of God. And in fact, all the suffering, struggles, hurts, anxieties, trials, injustices, and evils of this life are just warning signs—the Old World and it’s ways are collapsing– passing away—prepare for the Coming Kingdom. Because God’s Kingdom will last.
Jesus taught that this earth is the shadow kingdom, God’s Kingdom is the Real thing. This earth is a temporal, temporary, time-bound, limited 3 dimensional reality…but God’s Kingdom is Greater, it’s all around us in Dimensions of Time and Space greater than ours. And Jesus said we can be assured of our Citizenship in the New Kingdom. And because it’s real—it has real currency, real authority, real power and position, real glory and honor and reward. And Jesus wants us all to succeed and be prepared so that we won’t lose everything, but will be truly wealthy and successful when the New Kingdom comes.
That’s what we’re talking about in this Greatest Reward Series the next 4 weeks—Jesus taught a lot about Eternal Rewards, and how to succeed in Two Economies—because if you’re a Christ Follower, you have to live in 2 Economies. Like my Russian friends, you still have to live in this World’s Economy—earn money, pay rent, buy stuff, live and try to succeed in this Economy—but for the sake of succeeding first in the Kingdom of God. This is highly misunderstood by Christians—our Citizenship in God’s Kingdom is a gift, you can’t earn it. But we do gain rewards, honors, positions, possessions, wealth in the coming Kingdom based on what we do on earth. Some are thinking—that’s not right—well hang with us and let’s see what Jesus taught.
We belong to a New Kingdom—when you accept God’s offer of forgiveness, adoption into his family, and God’s leadership of your life it says:
“He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” Colossians 1:13-14
This is critical to understand—right relationship with God, the cost of citizenship in God’s Kingdom, was paid for by Jesus on the cross. It’s a free gift of God, costly to God, free to us.
We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. Philippians 3:20
God offers that free gift to every willing human—he won’t force you to live in His Kingdom forever, you can cling to the World’s ways and reject the coming King, or accept His gift of salvation. God loves you like a Mother loves her child. He wants you with him forever, but he wants willing, loving children, not forced obedient slaves. This is God’s Grace—people are saved or set into right relationship with God forever, made permanent citizens of Heaven, by a simple prayer of faith, “I want your forgiveness and leadership offered in Christ”, that’s all it takes. Have you told him that? Then your Citizenship in Heaven is secure.
But most people, Christians included shockingly, don’t prepare for this New Coming Kingdom, because many think it’s a fairy tale, less real than this world. I wrote Imagine Heaven to help convince skeptics that God and His Kingdom are real, but also to convince Christians that it’s worth living for. I’ve studied 1000 people who died clinically…their heart stopped, in some cases brain waves ceased, yet they claimed to enter a World of another Dimension—more real than this one ever felt. Gallup Poll discovered 1/25 people had a NDE. In my book, Imagine Heaven, I show how the 1000 stories I researched confirm what the Bible teaches.
When people die, they’re still alive—more alive—in expanded dimensions of time and space. And they find people or angels who lead them toward the Kingdom of Heaven or into a kingdom of Darkness. And if you didn’t get your scare on this Halloween, read Howard Storm’s full story in chapter 18 of Imagine Heaven. Evil is real, in this world and there is an evil realm beyond this world.
Now, Sounds sci-fi fantasy, hard to believe. Howard Storm says just like the Apostle Paul who was killing Christians—Jesus, this Brilliant God of Light and Love, saved Howard.
Now each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment…. Hebrews 9:27
Howard was not biologically dead—he came back from death—that’s why he was still able to be rescued last minute–like the thief on the cross who said: “Jesus when you come into your Kingdom, remember me” and Jesus said “You’ll be with me today in Paradise.”
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Matthew 16:26-27
Again, you don’t earn relationship with God–That’s a gift, but some people get so caught up in earning worldly success, they totally ignore God’s offer of relationship—they may gain this Old World, but lose their soul in the process.
Bumper Sticker Theology
Love is the motivation, then all that we do to please Jesus gets rewarded in God’s Kingdom.
I find some Christians who make the mistake of thinking “I’m saved by faith—I can’t earn it–so my works don’t matter.” But That’s bad theology. Your works matter—not for salvation, for reward.
It’s Bad Bumper-sticker theology. Seen these bumperstickers?
- “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”
- “Jesus is coming, look busy”
- “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to see him.”
- “Don’t be a bumper-sticker Christian”
I’m forgiven can be used as an excuse to live like hell—it’s bad theology.
How you live matters!
You can enter Heaven rich or dirt poor—successful or flat broke–which do you want? If you’re smart, you’ll think hard how to pay it forward and invest all you can in the Coming Kingdom.
Paul likens our lives to building a house. No house will stand unless it’s built on the foundation of what Christ did—making us right related to God by faith (the gift), but…
[Each person] will be rewarded for their own hard work…For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15
It’s a metaphor–a picture of someone who accepted God’s gift (foundation) of forgiveness through Christ, but then lived only for self. Paul says, they built their lives with things that won’t survive—they’ll be saved—but like a person running out of a burning house–Grateful to be alive, yet all they worked for on earth went up in smoke (the Old Kingdom collapsed and I invested nothing in the Kingdom of God). But if we build our lives on the promises of God, every little motive and act of kindness, every way we served, every sacrificial gift –it all gives an eternal return, an eternal reward.
God wants to reward you with Lasting Rewards—do you realize this? Are you living to be rewarded by God, or only by people? With things that last, or only things that won’t last? Jesus said:
Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven…Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you…pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1,4,6
Jesus says all those unseen acts of kindness, all those times you did right to please God, quiet times of prayer, gifts of financial generosity to His church or to help people that no one celebrated—he will reward. These are earning you currency in God’s coming Kingdom. Are you living that way? Be successful—but not just in this World, in the World to Come.
But most don’t live for God’s Kingdom it seems—maybe because it doesn’t seem as real, not as exciting, pleasing, rewarding as this life—so we don’t prioritize it. But if Jesus is telling the truth—it’s more real. It’s a World more tangible, more exciting, more full of life, responsibility, real treasure, real property, authority, glory and honor more real and lasting than this world every could offer.
The Kingdom to Come
The Kingdom to come is Real—more real and more beautiful, more pleasing and enjoyable than anything you could work for on this earth—bustling with life—there will be real work, real responsibilities, real wealth– That’s what Jesus wants us to realize. In This World, We’ve all been given different gifts, different responsibilities, different challenges to overcome by faith. And how faithful we are with what we’ve been given—determines how we enter God’s Kingdom–wealthy and entrusted with much, losing all we worked for. You’ll still be alive, loved, yet realize the lost opportunities God gave us in the world. That’s why Jesus said things like the following:
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? Luke 16:9-12
Do you see this? Jesus is saying worldly wealth is just a tool to use to gain true riches. Worldly property, houses, cars, material things—they’re gifts to use in gratitude in trustworthy ways to build God’s Kingdom on earth—and he will give us lasting wealth and lasting property.
Now I’ve had Christians say “We shouldn’t be motivated by rewards in Heaven.” Well, that’s great, only it’s not what Jesus taught. God created us to work for reward.
Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6
To pretend we have no motivation is deception—if you don’t believe God will reward you, and the rewards of earth are more motivating, then you will seek first what the world offers. But motivated by love for God and a desire to please God, all we do is building up a bank account in God’s Kingdom Currency. We can all succeed, and every little act counts:
Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Mark 9:41
You can all succeed in God’s Economy—just be faithful with what you’ve been given. God sees all, and he looks at the heart, our motives, our thoughts, our actions—and He will reward all you do seeking His Reward. Is it worth the sacrifice.
Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging [ruling] the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. Matthew 19:27-30
Do you believe Jesus? Are you living like it? Do you invest time, money, service in His Coming Kingdom?
Many of us hold back from God, fearing loss—God is saying, “Hey, give me your Soviet Rubles—And we’re afraid he wants to take from us when he’s saying, “No, I’m gonna exchange them for lasting currency.” Don’t be hold onto what you can’t keep, exchange it for what you can’t lose.
But there’s one more fear that keeps us from going all out living for Eternity. Secretly, we wonder “what if I sacrifice in this life and Heaven’s rewards are lame?” Kind of like as a kid when you put money in the arcade machine hoping to get that super-cool stuffed animal, but what actually comes out is a little plastic spider. What if Heaven’s Rewards are a let down? Jesus assured us—the Rewards are more real than this life’s rewards.
- Real Homes:
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2
Jesus calls them dwelling places because all Heaven will feel like home—but there are houses.
- Real Wealth and Real Property:
“…who will trust you with true riches?…who will give you property of your own? Luke 16:11-12
- Real Responsibility:
“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ Luke 19:17
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. Revelation 2:26.
There will be real responsibility—some were trustworthy with animals, and maybe they will care for many animals, some were faithful with artistic / musical abilities, they will create for the King of Kings. We will live, work, explore, create, learn—and how we enter Heaven and the capacity we have to enjoy it’s wonders, will depend on what we did in this life, at least at first.
I want to invite you to become a Citizen of Heaven if you never have—tell Him, “I want your forgiveness and relationship that Jesus purchased.”
If you are a Citizen of this New Kingdom—live like it–tell God you want live for and invest in His Coming Kingdom.