Advent Day 5. The Gift of Work To Do on God’s Behalf

December 5th

The gift of work to do at God’s request

 Could it be that work is a gift?  Absolutely!  And not just any work, but work to do for God.  Important work.  Necessary work.

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (NASB)

Now, at first blush this may seem quite contrary to the previous verse of being saved by faith alone… but really it is not.  It is actually an affirmation of the previous verse. 

Do you know that God has something for you to do today?  He has ordained it.  Good works… not for our benefit… and not even so that we will earn our salvation… but a project, a deed, a word to speak, a hug to give, a stack of dishes to wash, a bed to make or a prayer to offer… Yes, God can rearrange circumstances so that these works, these tasks that we do in His name, could come from someone else, but He delights when we do them, because, by doing them in His name, our faith is built up.  And we are then drawn into a deeper relationship with the Father. 

Let us not forget that Jesus did good works… even when it was considered unlawful to do so! 

 “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”  Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:1-6 NIV)

The Pharisees didn’t know what to do with a law-breaker like Jesus when he performed good works. 

When we do good works, this is what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Feeding the poor. Handing out a water bottle to someone in the park on a hot day.  Building a wheelchair ramp.  Cleaning up a widow’s yard overgrown with weeds and shrubs.  Loving our neighbor.

But, please be careful. Many well intentioned folks will tell you that your good works will earn you a special place in heaven.  Only God’s grace and unconditional love grants us access.

And do you know that the word “workmanship” means that we are God’s masterpieces?  He is Creator.  We are the created ones. Lovely.  Gorgeous. Beautiful. Works of art. The best we showcase God the creator, God the artist is to do the good works that He for us to do. So, let’s do them!  Out of love for the Creator.  Out of love for  the ability, the gift, of doing them so that His kingdom is increased.

So, roll up those sleeves and get going.  You have work to do!  Receive this gift joyfully… the gift of work to do on God’s behalf. 

Father God, let us be your hands and your feet today.  Let us love our neighbors as ourselves.  Let us do good works in your name.  Not because it will benefit us, but so that You may be glorified and so that Your Kingdom will come on this earth.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 

(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

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Advent Day 4. The Free Gift of Salvation.

December 4th

The Free Gift of Salvation

Have you ever received something totally free, with no strings attached?  Marketing executives often create advertising campaigns around free giveaways. They’re called B1G1F. That’s advertising speak for “Buy One, Get One Free!” But you know deep down that whatever they are giving away isn’t really free, is it?  Somebody had to pay for the free product that is being given away, right?

Well, the gift of salvation IS free for you and me.  All we have to do is ask for it and God is quick to give it to us.

Immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.   Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. (Ephesians 2:4-9, The Message)

When you read this, you can’t help but see that the gift of salvation is a gift… a gift of faith.  Given not because of anything we’ve done… but because of God’s love. He wants to shower grace and kindness upon us.   Do you remember a time when someone just showered grace and kindness upon you?  Even when didn’t deserve it?  Perhaps it was a parent… or a teacher… or a spouse… or a close friend.

God gives.  We receive.

If you are a giver, sometimes it can be really hard to receive, can’t it? 

There was a season in my life when I gave and gave and gave.  I had this spreadsheet all worked out where I was on track to give away half of my income by the time I turned 50 years old.  And then, I lost my job.  It was my turn to receive.  Boy, was it ever a challenge!  But God taught me something.  In order to truly appreciate the gift, I had to joyfully receive.  During this season, an almost complete stranger gave us a couple of thousand dollars.  It was a sacrifice for them to give.  I didn’t want to receive it.  But then, I realized that if I minimized the gift, I minimized the giver. 

 Thanks to Jesus’ death on the Cross of Calvary, thanks to His gift of laying down His life, we have the gift of life and life eternal.  And if hadn’t been born, he could not have given us this incredible gift.

So, open your hands and get down on your knees and receive this most wonderful gift, the free gift of salvation. 

Thank you God for the ultimate gift, the free gift of salvation.  Give me a heart that truly appreciates this gift, and the Giver.  In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

Advent Day 3. The Gift of Being Sealed with the Holy Spirit

December 3rd

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

Bank tellers and others who handle money are trained to tell the difference between real currency and counterfeit.  The real stuff has markings imbedded in between the fibers of the bills that can be seen when one knows what to look for. 

Real. Genuine. Authentic.

The third gift is found in Ephesians Chapter 1: 13-14 (NIV):

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

What a gift!  To be sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be sealed in God by the Holy Spirit?  Think of a letter or edict in the days of Paul.  It was common that a king would write a letter on animal skin parchment, roll it up, and then dip his royal signet ring into hot wax and then press the wax onto the parchment, sealing the letter, assuring that if anyone opened the letter they would crack the seal.  It made the letter authentic.  It was certified as coming from the king. 

So what happens when God seals you with the Holy Spirit?  It makes you authentic.  It certifies that you are from God.  And that you are protected by God.  Whoa!  And you, your life, as God has chosen you, are to be read by others as someone who is “of God.”  That is a pretty big responsibility, isn’t it?  But, if you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and are walking in the ways God calls us to walk, you reflect God naturally.  

Recall that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his followers in John 16:13 (NIV): “But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the Truth. For He will not speak His own message; but He will tell whatever He hears and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come.  He will honor and glorify Me, because He will take of what is Mine and will reveal it to you.”

So, the Holy Spirit is leading you into truth… you are reflecting that truth to others… you are sealed… and that seal, verse 14, “is a pledge of our inheritance.”  It’s a promise from the King!  We are His children.  We will spend all eternity with the King.  More appropriately, we ARE SPENDING all eternity with the King.  He promised it.  He sealed it.  It’s done.  What a gift!  

Open your hands and receive this gift today, the gift of being sealed with the Holy Spirit.

 

Thank you God, for the gift of being sealed with your Holy Spirit.  We are your authentic children who represent the King of Kings.  Protect us and let us reflect You today in all we are and all we do.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 


(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

Advent Day 2. The Gift of Being Adopted by God

December 2nd

Adopted as His children

 

Do a Google search on the word “adopted” and you’ll find heartfelt story after story of a child being adopted and given a new life when the birth parent(s) would only be able to provide much less.  There are countless examples of the famous and obscure enjoying a fresh life thanks to being adopted, to being chosen.

God is the ultimate adoptive parent.  He has given us the choice of whether or not we want to be adopted by Him, through His Son.  And, being the omnipotent God that He is, He knows what our choice will be while urging each of us to become His child. 

The next gift?  Adoption.  “In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:5 NIV)

Now, some people get hung up on “predestined.”   Some would suggest that if God has predestined whether or not I go to heaven, then I don’t need to get caught up in His decision.  I can act like I want… and since it is mentioned in several other places in the Bible that God wants everyone to be saved… I’ve been predestined to go to heaven… then it doesn’t matter how I act, right?

Predestination means God has the plan… and it’s a good and great plan…. But WE do the choosing whether or not we’re going to follow that plan.   When we choose God, we receive the inheritance, like sons and daughters.  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) speaks of God’s plan for us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  So, why wouldn’t we want to accept the plan God has for us?  It’s a great plan.  It’s a wonderful gift!

John Calvin, one of the great leaders of the Christian faith in the 1500’s wrote and preached much on predestination.  He suggests that no one can live a Godly life without the Holy Spirit being in him… without God having called that person to be a Believer. 

Why would a person want to be God’s son or daughter?  God’s love for each person is so immense that nothing can contain God’s love for us (Romans 8:38-39).  Calvin suggests:   “When we have our adoption engraved in our hearts, then…we have a good and infallible pledge that God will guide us unto the end, and that since he has begun to lead us into the way of salvation, he will bring us to the perfection to which he calls us, because, in truth, without him we could not continue so much as a single day.” [1]

God has called us.  God has elected us.  John 1:12 (NASB) says: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born… not of the will of man, but of God.”

God has predestined us to follow Him, to embrace the great things He has for us, to love Him.  And I am thankful for that gift… because with it, He is the One who guides us through this life on our path to spending all of eternity with Him.  He guides.  We choose.

So, gift #2 is the Gift of Adoption, of being called God’s son or God’s daughter, and all the love that goes with it.

 

Thank you God, for this Gift of Adoption, of being Your child.  We joyfully choose to be your child and receive all the love you give to us as our unfailing Heavenly Father.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



[1] John Calvin, The Third Sermon on the First Chapter of Ephesians.  Calvin’s Ephesians’ Sermons, preached on Sundays at Geneva in 1558-59, when he was 49 years of age, were first printed in French in 1562, then in English in 1577. www.the-highway.com.

(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

Advent Day 1. The Gift of Every Spiritual Blessing.

December 1st

Your best gift?

December, Christmas and gifts… they go hand in hand don’t they?  Do you remember the best gift you’ve ever received?  How about the worst gift?

Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective.  My sister tells the story of a gift she and her husband gave to each other one year.  Gutters.  Yep, gutters.  You might not think that’s a very romantic gift but for this newly married couple building their first home, rain gutters were an extravagant luxury.  So it was a delightful welcomed gift for each!

So, there are things we want and things we need.  I believe there are three basic categories of “needs” that we all have:

Physical needs:  food, water, a roof over our head, clothes on our backs, tangible things.

Emotional needs: happiness, peace, tranquility. Those are easy to identify. 

But this third one is sometimes harder to grasp: spiritual needs.  What are spiritual needs that we have? 

One definition is from a man named Howard Clinebell.  He is a clinical psychologist and a university PhD.  He says we all have at least seven spiritual needs in our core.  The first is this:  “All people need to experience regularly the healing and empowerment of love – from others, from self, and from God.” [1]  Love!

Paul says right off the bat, in Ephesians Chapter 1, verse 3 that Jesus “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Jesus is the source of spiritual blessings!  It makes sense to me that even the worldly scientist says that spiritual blessing is love, because we know that 1st John 4:8 says that “God is love.” Jesus is the One who gives us the greatest gift we can have… every spiritual blessing… Love!

You know, I can live without physical needs… like a house or food, for while anyway.   I can survive without emotional needs, I don’t have to be happy.  But, I would say that none of us can fully live the lives that God has for us without embracing the unlimited spiritual need of love — provided by the grace-filled hands of Jesus.

And that gets us back to the Greatest Gifts.  John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” 

Open your hands and receive the first gift of the Season, the Gift of Love, the Gift of Every Spiritual Blessing!

 

God, thank you for the Gift of every spiritual blessing.  Let me receive it with joy. Let me receive Your Love this Season.  And let me give joy and love to others.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


[1] Clinebell, H.J. (1992). Well Being: A Personal Plan for Exploring and Enriching the Seven Dimensions of Life: Mind, Body, Spirit, Love Work, Play, the World. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

Advent… getting ready.

Advent: The Greatest Gifts of All

Welcome to Advent, the season that welcomes our Lord Jesus and leads up to the celebration of His birth.  This study will take, perhaps, a slightly different slant to the season as we open Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus.  Why Ephesians?  Well, you are right to suggest that the book isn’t very “Christmasy.”  There are no stories about trips on donkeys, a baby born in a stable or angels singing outside the window. 

The book of Ephesians mirrors many writings throughout the Bible.  It includes these two main points:

  1. God loves you and has always had a plan for you
  2. And that plan has always included the hope and glory and power and wisdom and love of Jesus our Messiah.

Even if you have never bowed your knee to Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord, know that God loves you and has a plan for you.

So, let’s take the month of December, between now and Christmas Day and give Ephesians a closer look. At its core, we’ll discover 25 wonderful gifts God desires to give each one of us.  They are The Greatest Gifts of All.   Are you ready to receive them?

From Ephesians Chapter 1:15-23 (NIV), a prayer for you from Paul.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The very words of God. 

Paul starts this prayer offering thanksgiving for the church.  He asks God to give them all wisdom and revelation so that the church may know God better.  And then Paul prays for their heart… so that they may know His hope, His inheritance and His power!  And then He affirms that that power is the same that raised a dead man to life and in its fullness, is available to us… filling everything in every way.

There will be a new devotional thought each day, beginning tomorrow, December 1st.  So bookmark this page, or subscribe to the receive your daily Advent devotional via the “follow blog via email” button at the right.

The 25 Days of God’s greatest gifts, from the book of Ephesians (chapter and verse in parenthesis):

  1. The gift of every spiritual blessing (1:3)
  2. The gift of being adopted as God’s son or daughter (1:5)
  3. The gift of being sealed with God by the Holy Spirit (1:13)
  4. The free gift of Salvation (2:8)
  5. The gift of work to do at God’s request (2:10)
  6. The gift of being a citizen of Heaven (2:19)
  7. The gift of grace for all ministers, that is everyone who ministers in Jesus’ name, for all believers (3:7)
  8. The gift of boldness and confident access (3:12)
  9. The gift of Jesus dwelling in our hearts (3:17)
  10. The gift of knowing how much Christ loves us (3:19)
  11. The gift of unity (4:4-6)
  12. The gift of grace (4:7)
  13. The gift of learning with a purpose (4:11)
  14. The gift a new self, in the likeness of God (4:24)
  15. The gift of Christ himself, an offering, a sacrifice (5:2)
  16. The gift of encouraging others (5:18-21)
  17. The gift of family (5:22-6:9)
  18. The gift of victory over the enemy (6:10-12)
  19. The gift of weaponry, the belt of truth (6:14)
  20. The gift of weaponry, the breastplate of righteousness (6:14)
  21. The gift of weaponry, the boots of readiness to share the Gospel (6:15)
  22. The gift of weaponry, the shield of faith (6:16)
  23. The gift of weaponry, the helmet of salvation (6:17)
  24. The gift of weaponry, the sword of the Spirit (6:17)
  25. The gift of prayer (6:18)


(c) 2011 Rich Ronald

“Not another test, God?”

When you were a student in school, how did you feel about tests?  Some of you were the super smart students weren’t you?  “Bring ‘em on!” you would say.  But for those of you who are wired like I am, you probably didn’t like tests.  Did you ever not study and then when the prof handed out the exam say a little prayer that evoked the supernatural:  “God, I know I didn’t study for this, but please, guide my pencil.  I need a miracle today.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

What about now?  How do you deal with tests?  I’m referring now to tests of faith.  I’m guessing that you have something on your heart today where you need God to show up?  To the believer, I would say we all do.  Everyday.  Don’t you need God everyday?  Especially today.

Continue reading ““Not another test, God?””