My life just flashed before my eyes!
No, this wasn’t a near-death experience.
I’m scanning family pictures onto a flash drive. (Get it? “Flashed” before my eyes? Oh, don’t give me that look! That was clever.) You see, my wife and I have a serious problem. No, it’s not taking pictures of any and everything. It’s organizing the pictures we already have and keeping them organized! And for the record, 40+ years of family pics add up to a lot!
I’m scanning six plastic bins of hard copy picture albums! There are my baby pictures, my family as I was growing up, weird-looking school pictures, embarrassing college pictures, dating and marriage pictures with Jeanne, and the most extensive of all – kid pictures from birth to when digital cameras appeared. Ah, the curse of growing up with pre-digital photography.
And for all you older folks, remember getting those pics developed? The cost was astounding! The sad part was you paid for each picture whether it was in focus or not, or under-, or over-exposed. Whether it was a pic to pitch or a pic to treasure, you paid for it all!
As I scanned through the photos, my wife and I decided to keep a limited number to treasure. The rest will be discarded, laid to rest in a landfill somewhere. But we’ll have all the pictorial memories preserved on one small flash drive. A lifetime of snapshots enshrined in a “tiny little living space” as Robin William’s Genie from Aladdin once quipped.
It was sobering to watch my life pass before my eyes. I was profoundly surprised as my mind and heart started churning out memories and emotions as if to frame and transform each photo from a 2-D snapshot to a 3-D experience.
And yes, I almost started crying a couple of times.
I became deeply aware of two things – what I’ve done and left undone. It sounds like the confession from the Book of Common Prayer: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…”
I sometimes struggle with my memories. Maybe you do, too. When I reflect on my life, I remember isolated events and instances. Often, they have neither a positive nor negative effect on me. They just are. Sometimes, they make me laugh. Sometimes, though, sadness and regret sweep over me when I remember “things I’ve done and left undone.” I ask myself, “Was I a good husband and father? Did I spend enough time with my wife and children? Have I been a good friend? Am I a decent person? Given the chance, would I have done things differently?”
Basically, “Have I done well with the life I’ve been given?”
Scanning the pictures is odd because many of the snapshots challenged my memories of the moments. I feel like I didn’t spend time with the kids and yet here in my hand was the proof that I did. Big outings to the Minnesota State Fair, birthdays, camping, Christmas and other holidays, and small ordinary times of hanging out at Minnesota’s Mall of America, building a swing set, or rough-housing on the living room floor while playing “Steam-roller!” (That’s where big ol’ dad rolled over the kids while supporting myself so I wouldn’t crush the little tykes.)
I suddenly remembered some of what I think of as the good times were not so good and some of the “bad” times weren’t as bad as I thought. This reminds me of what the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
To give according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.
Family pictures show us fragments of our lives. But there’s a Day coming when every one of us will stand before our Creator to give account for every second of the lives as they flash past us.
Here’s the Bible’s scenario: 1) We’ll die. 2) Believers will be resurrected/raptured at Jesus’ return. Then He’ll judge us according to how we’ve lived our lives after being saved (1 Corinthians 4:5), and 3) Those who’ve rejected God and the only way back to Him, will be resurrected after Jesus’ 1000-year reign and face their execution (Revelation 20:11-15).
There are two thrones before which these events will happen: The Great White Throne and Jesus’ Throne (aka the Bema Judgment).
For the person who rejects God or the only way back to Him, he/she will stand before the Great White Throne, “And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
For the believer, that person will stand before Jesus to have his/her life assessed. No, this isn’t a punishment judgment, but a reward judgment. Lemme ‘splain.
In the really old days, a bema was a raised platform upon which judges or authorities sat. “Originally used in Athens as a tribunal from which orators addressed the citizens as well as the courts of law, the bema later became a standard fixture in Christian churches.” The raised platform in synagogues today is still called the Bema. (Source)
According to a most excellent article, “The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ” (Source), Apostle Paul’s use of this word “was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5). The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25). In all these passages, “Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers… In other words, it is a reward seat and portrays a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination, but it is not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. Such would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the Cross because He totally paid the penalty for our sins.” (italics, mine)
In other words, the Great White Throne is for punishment. A single punishment. Total and eternal exclusion from God. The 2nd Death (Revelation 20:14). Done and well done.
But the Bema Judgment (Jesus’ Throne) is not for judgment, it’s for rewards. You see, believers have been forgiven and “washed clean” by Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. That’s a Bible way of saying our sin record has been paid for and completely erased. Now it’s up to us to keep the page clean by living right per God. If we stumble, “we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 John 2:1). We “wash up” by confessing our sin and getting back on God’s path.
But what kind of rewards are we talking about here? Sorry, I can’t give you specifics because God hasn’t revealed the specifics. But they’ll come from Jesus, so we know they’ll be great! Here’s a list of the rewards from the bible.org article:
Crowns. A crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), and a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).
Heavenly treasures. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20).
Commendations. “‘Well done, good servant!’ he told him…” (Luke 19:17).
Overcomer rewards. “To the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7; also 2:11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21, and 21:7. Read through these verses for a HUGE motivation to live well for Jesus!)
Special responsibilities and authority over God’s possessions. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy’” (Matthew 19:28; 24:45-47; 25:21, 23).
Wowzers! Those rewards sure beat getting thrown into the Lake of Fire!
But as you read through this summary of judgment and reward, did your life just flash before your eyes? Was what you “saw” terrifying or gratifying? Did your stomach sink at the thought of what you have done and left undone? Were you encouraged? Or are those memories waning?
Some of our memories are faded, much like old photos. Some are forgotten like those buried in never-perused photo albums stored in bins. The photos I saw after decades of storage brought so much back to me. But that’s not what it’s going to be like when we stand before Jesus. Everything will be brought back and reviewed.
And we will be held accountable. Accountable means “to reckon for money given or received, render a reckoning, (c. 1400). The sense of ‘to explain, justify’ (c. 1300) is from the notion of “present a detailed explanation of money, etc. held in trust” (Online Etymology Dictionary, italics mine).
What do we hold in trust? Our lives. Every moment of our lives will be scanned by Jesus with the highest definition, all wavelengths, and microscopic vision that will render us bare before Him, for “No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). No, it’s not talking about physical nakedness. It’s something far scarier. It’s the thoughts, feelings, and motives from the uttermost hidden recesses of our being, all exposed to the All-Knowing Holy One.
We won’t be able to explain or justify ourselves. Our past words and actions, backed up by our exposed thoughts, attitudes, and motives will do all the talking (Matthew 12:37).
Condemned? No. Accountable? Yes. The good news is we won’t be exiled from the King’s presence, because we’re restored to God’s family through Jesus. Rather, we’ll be rewarded, but we could lose some of our rewards depending upon how we “earned” them, that is, how our thoughts, attitudes, and motives influenced and shaped our words and works.
“If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it (Jesus’ Bema Judgement) because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
The works that are burned up here are not “bad” works, as in immoral or evil. If you’re a believer, those immoral and evil things have already been forgiven and erased. The works here are defined by the materials used to classify them – precious and lasting works versus worthless and destroyable works that brought no benefit to Jesus and His Kingdom.
The big surprise to many of us will be similar to how I feel about my faulty memories. Some of what I think is rewardable will be lost. Some of what I think is a loss will prove to be rewardable. Only the most loving, merciful, gracious, All-Seeing, All-Knowing Judge and King will determine which are which.
So, what have you done with the life you have been given? If your reply is, “Not so much” or “Not so good,” then confess it and let it go. Unlike those dopey school pictures, there are no “retakes.” But we can start a whole new set of family photos in God’s picture album that will make Jesus smile, grin, laugh, and perhaps even tear up as He reviews them with us.
How do we do this? We read our instruction manual, God’s Word, and learn to live it as Jesus would. “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and “The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
Learn from the past. Let it motivate us. Live forward with a new perspective – good words and good works for God’s glory.
And you should get to this right away because life is gone in a flash!
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts
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