25 Great Gifts for you and me from God as revealed in the New Testament book of Ephesians.
December 17, 2011
The Gift of Family
This Advent Daily Devotional is focusing on the gifts God gives us, as uncovered in the book of Ephesians.
Did you know that researchers have found that people who are married have a better life? Yes, it’s true! Many may find holes in the data to support their own experience, however, if you are married there is a strong likelihood that you will live a longer life, have a better financial picture, and enjoy better mental health and greater safety than those who are not married.
From my perspective, this data supports God’s perfect plan all along. Today’s Gift from Ephesians is the Gift of Family.
Here’s how The Message describes the key relationship of wives and husbands, beginning in Ephesians 5:22:
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
Paul’s definition of marriage is the way God would like it to be for us. That’s the way it CAN be. It’s not just a pipe dream or an awesome goal. With the Holy Spirit in us and encouraging us daily, it CAN be that way.
A good marriage takes a lot of hard work… a good family life even more work. It is understandable to say that you may feel like you’ve put out all the hard work you can muster at your job and that there just isn’t enough time or energy to put in the hard work to make your marriage in the way God intended. I get that.
Someone once said that marriage is not a 50-50 proposition, in that each spouse does 50% of the work. No, marriage is a 100-100 proposition. Both the husband and the wife are to pour 100% of their energies into making it work.
One could drone on and on about what makes a good marriage and what makes a bad marriage, quoting wedding vows and divorce statistics.
It’s not that simple. Life is complex. It is complicated as a single adult. It’s more challenging as a couple. And it gets really interesting when that couple adds some children into that life. But what a gift your family can be! What a joy our children are! Especially when we take the time to see them as God does.
Billy Graham says “Children will invariably talk, eat, walk, think, respond, and act like their parents. Give them a target to shoot at. Give them a goal to work toward. Give them a pattern that they can see clearly, and you give them something that gold and silver cannot buy.”
Marriage, and family, is a great gift! When you have a little more time this Season, read Ephesians 5:22 through 6:4 and ponder how you can be a better parent, or a better child, in your family. Ask God to give you His grace and His eyes to see your family members the way He does. That is a wonderful gift!
Father God, thank you for the gift of my family. Let me see the members of my family the way you do. Use me to bring your peace and your grace and your love to my family this Season. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
© 2011. Rich Ronald
The gift of being a citizen of Heaven
On Day 6 in this Advent Devotional, what is the next gift God has for us? Citizenship in Heaven! Are you someone who has moved around a bunch in your life? I am. I have lived at 21 different addresses. And I didn’t grow up in a military family… My average is just under two-and-a-half years per address.
So, let me tell you, I am so thankful for the gift in Ephesians, Chapter 2, verse 19: “This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone.”
Last summer the New York Times ran a list of word phrases that are considered “The Happiest Words in the English Language.” They include:
“You’ve been upgraded to First Class”
“Have you lost weight?”
“Let me help you.”
“I love you.”
When a police officer says: “Be a little more careful next time. Have a nice day.”
And then there is this one…
“In the Spring of 1971, the announcement from the cockpit of a United Airlines plane, as it was rolling into position for takeoff from Vietnam to San Francisco. There were about 250 military personnel on-board. ‘The tower has already cleared us for takeoff. Let’s go home.’”
In John 14:2-3, Jesus has these comforting words for us: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (N(V)
The context is similar to that of a groom in the Ancient Days who proposes to his bride-to-be, then returns to his family’s home. He builds an addition on to that house, a room, for he and his new bride. And when construction of the room is completed, he returns to get his bride and they are married and return to the home he built for their new family!
It is the same for us. Isn’t it great to know that no matter our wanderings on earth, no matter our failures or successes on earth, we will always be welcomed by Jesus in heaven! That is such a great gift!
So, open your arms and receive this homecoming gift this Advent; the gift of citizenship in Heaven.
Father, thank you for the precious gift of knowing that you have a prepared a place for me to call home, in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
 NY Times, August 30, 2010, http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/welcome-home/
(c) 2011 Rich Ronald
The gift of work to do at God’s request
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
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
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
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.” 
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.